Those who live or work in Scotland may have seen the article published in The Scotsman last week reporting that some of the Western Isles now have much higher rates of Lyme disease than the Scottish average because ticks are thriving in the mild oceanic climate.
Researchers at the Universities of Glasgow and Liverpool found that the open, treeless habitats in the Western Isles have a similar tick density to mainland forest sites.
Dr Roman Biek from Glasgow University commented:
“This is a striking finding and suggests that microclimatic conditions in these open habitats…can be as conducive to tick survival as conditions in woodlands. Our study highlights the potential for Lyme disease to emerge in habitats with a suitable climate other than forests so we should be looking at non-forested habitats more broadly”.
This new research confirms that ticks are equally happy living in open habitats as they are in woodlands and supports my long-held view that infected ticks is a problem which affects the whole country. Ticks are hardy creatures and are adapting to survive in all types of habitats, including urban parks and back gardens. This, coupled with rising deer numbers across the UK (as highlighted recently by RSPB Scotland), means it is no surprise that reports of tick bites are on the increase.
I live in the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire and although we are only 23 miles from London (as the crow flies), the nature of the landscape and local wildlife population means it has been designated a ‘medium to high’ tick risk area by The Big Tick Project (a national survey and awareness campaign). I see Muntjac on a weekly basis whilst out dog walking and our garden hosts a variety of wildlife, including pheasants, squirrels and wild birds. It is one of the things I love about where I live but it means tick prevention is always at the forefront of my mind.
Research I have undertaken over the last 18 months (since I founded Botanic Protect), together with anecdotal evidence I have collected, reveals that tick bites are an actual problem – not just theoretical! Many families are genuinely terrified at the thought of picking up a tick bite whilst out and about, to the extent they avoid wooded areas and certain high risk places.
A number of families have shared their tick encounters with me and two stories that stand out involve children (ticks picked up in a London park and at a birthday party in the woods). In both cases, the bites were unexpected and the parents caught completely off-guard.
Whilst Lyme Disease Action’s annual estimate of 10,000 new cases of Lyme disease may sound low in relative terms, it only takes one bite – essentially being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The consequences, however, can be life changing.
Tick activity is clearly a growing concern as there are a number of research projects taking place across Europe and the UK. This includes, The NorthTick Project (of which NHS Highland is a partner) which has as its aim the development of tools to support health care systems meet the challenges of tick-borne diseases by offering better prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
One of the reasons I consider Lyme disease to be so cruel is that it strikes when people are trying to make the most of time outdoors, whether it is playing in the woods, visiting a wildlife reserve, picnicking in the park or simply doing the weekend gardening. As Dr Robert Bransfield recently observed during a Lyme Disease UK webinar on Psychiatric Manifestations of Tick-Borne Infections, people who contract Lyme disease are typically active, stoic, outdoor people.
The latest research from the Universities of Glasgow and Liverpool only serves to highlight that the problem isn’t going away; we need to be more proactive when it comes to promoting tick prevention.
We should all be following Public Health England’s guidance and incorporating simple tick prevention measures into our daily routines when spending time outdoors in order to guard against tick bites.
Suzanne Higginson, Founder of Botanic Protect
Source: ‘Ticks thriving in Western Isles because of mild climate, study suggests’ by Rachel Mackie, The Scotsman 29 March 2021.
© Botanic Protect Ltd 2021