'it’s worth remembering that even if you’ve handed the task of rodent control to a specialist pest company, some extra paperwork is still required to show you’re meeting the new rules'

Wee, sleekit, cowrin’, tim’rous beastie

Oh whit a panic’s in my breastie

For wi’ poison I canna chase thee

We murderous intent

Until I’ve passed my farm assessment…

Yeah, I know, a bit late for Burns – but I’m sure that as a fellow farmer he’d probably forgive me for recycling and murdering some of his poetry in order to make a point.

For, just like Rabbie, I would doubt if many modern-day farmers would grudge the odd wee bite of corn here and there for the local wildlife. But once these long-tailed, pointy-nosed beasties get into the grain store or the straw shed, the bill can be a lot higher than a 'daimen icker in a thrave'.

Rabbie was lucky enough to live in a time when nobody probably gave a rat’s ass about a few rodent droppings in amongst the grain – but nowadays even a single piece of mouse manure could be enough to see a whole 30-tonne lorry-load rejected.

worse than that, though, is the estimated £28m bill which is annually attributed to mice and their larger cousins, rats, through their tendency to nibble through electric wires in farm sheds.

Apparently, more than half of all farm fires are put down to the taste which these rodents have for the insulating material in the cabling of our electricity supplies.

And that’s to say nothing of the havoc which they can wreak on combine wiring looms and the million and one other pieces of electronic equipment which spend any length of time in a farm shed.

So, for many years, the answer has been to put down plenty of rat poison to make sure that such eventualities are avoided.

However, this blanket bombing approach has had two detrimental outcomes – selection for rats which are resistant to widely used poisons and a whole host of problems with birds of prey and other non-target species being poisoned by either eating the bait directly or eating rats and mice which have.

Needless to say, this has led to government action – and series of rules introduced by the HSE last year now mean that Joe Public can no longer simply waltz into the farm supplies stores and buy industrial quantities of the aforementioned rat and mouse bait.

Following increasing concerns over how these poisons were being used the Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use (CRRU) was brought into being to up to the game of those involved in controlling rats and mice.

By limiting the sales of poisons to professionals who are willing to follow a code of practice which requires responsible use, the industry hopes to stave off the HSE’s alternative approach – which would see many products banned and others available only in much weaker doses.

So limiting sales of commercial quantities to those who had been through a proper training course and gained certification in the responsible use of rat poisons was seen as the best way forward.

But, unsurprisingly, there was a bit of a hue and cry from farmers about this – as it would mean they would either have to go through the training and tests, get a contractor in to do the job or footer about with tiny wee packets of poison.

So this, together with the fact that it would be difficult if not impossible to train everyone up in time – saw a bit of a compromise being struck.

And so it was decided that provided you were the member of a qualifying assurance scheme – such as SQC or QMS – it was possible to show this certificate or give your registration number and still buy the sort of big packs required to control rodents on farms.

However, this general relaxation only lasted for one year – and in order for the arrangement to continue there had to be a tightening up on the pest control standards in the assurance schemes. With the details thrashed out at the end of last year for introduction at the start of 2018, that’s where we’re at now.

So be warned and aware that this year’s round of farm assurance inspections are more than likely to see the assessor checking up on the new requirements which have been adapted to reflect the CRRU code of practice – and anyone who hasn’t taken action to show that they’re complying with the new rules could well find themselves suspended from the scheme.

SQC have certainly been trying to get the message out ahead of this year’s round of inspections – and there have been series of meetings on the topic around the country. While there seemed to be more pest control operators than farmers at the one I went along to a week or so ago, it actually turned out to be a really interesting evening.

The presentation skills of Dee Ward Thomson, from the British Pest Control Association, certainly kept the meeting flying along and what might well have been a dry humourless event turned out to be both entertaining and informative – catch one if you can.

And there’s also a good deal of useful information available on the thinkwildlife.org website.

However, it’s worth remembering that even if you’ve handed the task of rodent control to a specialist pest company, some extra paperwork is still required to show you’re meeting the new rules – and an Environmental Impact Assessment and a certificate of competence for the operator actually doing the job are needed.

And so will bait plans and records which show that sites are being wisely chosen and not adopting the old 'just in case' approach of leaving them permanently loaded with bait.

Now a lot of farmers seem to be somewhat sceptical of doing away with this belt and braces approach, feeling that prevention is better than cure when it comes to mouse and rat infestation.

However, the reason given for avoiding permanent baiting is that the need for this sort of approach shows there’s actually some other underlying problem which needs to be tackled.

On top of this, in the same way as we’ve seen an increase in diseases resistant to commonly used fungicide groups, such an approach is also likely to add to the problems of resistance and the selection for so-called 'super rats' which aren’t affected by poisons.

But what was it Rabbie said about the best laid schemes o’ mice and men ...?