Close up on pest control – humane deterrence

Posted on the 4th April 2004

The following article by John Bryant is reproduced from the Spring 2004 issue of Outrage - Animal Aid's quarterly magazine which is sent to all Animal Aid members. To find out more about joining Animal Aid click here.

Before you read any further, find your local Yellow Pages and turn to ‘Pest Control.’ In mine (for South East London) I counted 76 companies.

Wherever you live you are likely to find several pages dedicated to ‘controlling’ (a euphemism for killing) any insect, animal or bird perceived – justly or otherwise – to be a nuisance.

If Tony Blair wants to find weapons of mass destruction he need look no further than the multi-billion pound pest control industry and its huge arsenals of traps, poisons, firearms and lethal devices. One company alone – Rentokil Initial – (which has recently expanded into cleaning, security and fire systems), now operates in 40 countries, employs 92,000 people, and has announced half yearly before-tax profits of over £200 million from a turnover of £1.2 billion.

Not bad for a business that began by exterminating Death Watch Beetles in Westminster Hall in the 1920s and whose founder was so keen on finding new killer chemicals that he even managed to poison himself in 1926!

An alternative vision

Now that lethal ‘pest control’ involves creatures far higher up the evolutionary scale, surely the time has come to challenge the concept that dominates and perverts our relationship with the creatures who live around us?

In the summer of 1998, I was invited by Trevor Williams – director of the Fox Project – to take over the humane fox deterrence service that he had developed to provide advice and assistance for people suffering nuisance from foxes. Over the last six years, under the banner of Humane Urban Wildlife Deterrence, I have built up a business with around 1,500 clients, mostly in Greater London and including householders, cemeteries, schools, sports clubs, hospitals, churches, building companies, nuclear power stations and even the Cabinet Office in Downing Street!

Employing peaceful methods such as manipulation of environments, use of repellents and removal of attractions, I have begun to extend the concept of humane deterrence from foxes alone to problems with other animals such as squirrels, pigeons, moles, and rats and mice.

In the early days my clients came via the Fox Project, but now most come through local councils and it is evident that a growing section of the population, given the opportunity, would prefer to deal with ‘pests’ without causing suffering or death.

Spreading the service nationwide

I get telephone calls from Scotland, Wales, Midlands and the West Country, seeking advice on humane ways of deterring nuisance wildlife. These distant callers are beyond my ‘call-out’ range and so I usually end up giving them free advice or referring them to pre-recorded advice lines such as that offered by the Fox Project.

But it is clear that there is great demand for a practical humane deterrence service nationwide, and importantly, that people are prepared to pay for it. In the last five and a half years I have been paid over £90,000 for my services. When the costs of vehicle, fuel, telephone, repellents, devices, materials, etc. are taken into account, my earnings are only around £10,000 to £12,000 per annum, which, without my wife working, would hardly be enough to sustain London living.

However, being one’s own boss, meeting and helping (mostly nice) people, protecting animals by dispelling ignorance, preaching tolerance and depriving pest controllers of victims is highly satisfying work. There is only one negative aspect – spending three or four hours a day driving in London. Yet with air conditioning, a radio and two dogs for company, it’s far less stressful than the eight years I spent running an animal sanctuary in Somerset or the twelve years I spent as an officer of the League Against Cruel Sports!


Can you help?

It’s high time such a service was available everywhere – whether confined to urban foxes, or expanded to embrace other urban creatures. Therefore I am looking for other people with a proven interest in animal rights to join this peaceful revolution. I hope to organise a seminar next spring where I can share enough knowledge and experience to enable people to get started. Later I anticipate setting up something akin to a trade association to maintain standards, share experiences and spread knowledge.

If you think this could be a career for you, I will place your name on file and send you a list of essential books (including my own Living With Urban Wildlife (available from the Animal Aid online shop, £9.95) so that you can begin to cultivate the depth of knowledge you will require to become a successful member of the proposed British Wildlife Deterrence Association. Sounds better than the British Pest Control Association, don’t you think?

  • For more information visit John Bryant’s website at
    Or contact John Bryant, Humane Urban Wildlife Deterrence, 23 Tormount Road, London SE18 1QD, tel 020 8316 7852.
  • See also the work of The Humane Group.

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