Environmental solutions to reduce the risk of current and future tick-borne zoonotic pathogens in the UK

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: College of Medical, Veterinary, Life Sci


The threat posed by tick-borne diseases (TBD) in temperate regions such as the UK is growing rapidly. Human exposure is often linked to woodlands that support high densities of tick vectors and key wildlife hosts of these pathogens, and are intensively used by people. Climate change and government policies to increase woodland connectivity and improve human recreational access are highly likely to increase risks of TBD in the UK. To mitigate this threat we need to better understand effects of landscape structure on the movement and habitat use of those wildlife species which are key hosts for ticks and zoonotic pathogens. We also need to understand how humans use landscapes, where they are most at risk of exposure to tick bites and whether exposure could be prevented by habitat and host management. Given recent shifts across Europe in the distributions of TBD and tick populations, it is also critical to understand how longer term climate and land use changes may affect the introduction, establishment and spread of TBDs.
Bringing together researchers from ecology, epidemiology, public health, and social science, TICKSOLVE aims to address these gaps. We will provide evidence for optimal greening and woodland restoration policies that will maximise benefits to biodiversity and human wellbeing while minimising human risks from current and future tick-borne diseases by:
1. Bringing together key national and regional level actors in health, land and biodiversity policy that interact with landscapes and TBD systems, to frame key risk scenarios and feasible environmental interventions for TBDs.
2. Better understanding how landscape structure shapes wildlife host distribution, habitat selection and movements and consequently impacts on ticks and TBD risk combining ecological surveys, pathogen genetics and computer modelling
3. Mapping how people use woodland landscapes and how this interacts with risk of encountering infected ticks to identify high risk areas for human exposure
4. Modelling how potential environmental barriers and interventions could reduce human exposure, integrating this knowledge of ecological interactions across the landscapes
5. Predicting how changes in woodland area and climate and patterns of bird migration may change TBD risks in the future
6. Co-developing interventions to minimise current and future TBD risks with stakeholders and policymakers that are locally appropriate.
The research will focus on three emerging pathogens that pose a risk to the UK. Firstly Lyme disease (LD) which is currently present in the UK and can cause long-term debilitation. Reported cases of LD have increased 10-fold since 2000, probably linked to an expanding distribution of its main tick vector, Ixodes ricinus. Secondly, tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) which has been recently detected in ticks in the UK with evidence of suspected human cases in 2019. TBE uses the same tick vector and can cause severe neurological damage and death with some 5,000 to 12,000 reported cases each year in mainland Europe. Thirdly, Crimean Congo Haemorrhagic Fever (CCHF), caused by a WHO priority pathogen CCHF virus, with epidemic potential, is expanding north-westward in Europe. It's tick vector, Hyalomma spp., was found recently on migratory birds arriving in the UK. The TICKSOLVE project platform and approach of co-developing research, models and risk communication materials with stakeholders, accounting for diverse land management priorities, will enable formulation of future-proofed woodland and greening policies that minimise risks of these diverse TBDs. Furthermore, engagement with key global partners and networks through webinars and meetings will facilitate transfer of TICKSOLVE inter-disciplinary approaches to other rapidly changing tick-borne disease systems worldwide


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Description Deer GPS collaring 
Organisation Forestry Commission
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Dr Robin Gill, Forest Research, Forestry Commission Purchse of additional GPS collars
Collaborator Contribution Purchse of additional GPS collars for deer tracking
Impact Expanded understanding of fallow deer movement - Expanded sample size, more robust inference
Start Year 2022
Description Oral presentation by Saudamini Venkatesan "Do woodland patch size and connectivity influence tick density through impacts on key tick hosts?" Annual Meeting of the British Ecological Society (18-21 Dec 2022) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Oral presentation in the Annual Meeting of the British Ecological Society (18-21 Dec 2022) which lead to engagement with aligned projects on infectious diseases and further insights into ecological community analysis from camera trapping data.

Authors: Saudamini Venkatesan, Sara Gandy, Kayleigh Hansford, Mark Greener, Richard Hassall, Beth Purse, Roman Biek, Tom Morrison, Lucy Gilbert, Jolyon Medlock, Caroline Millins
Abstract: Zoonotic tick-borne diseases are a rising concern in the UK, with Lyme disease incidence increasing over the last two decades. Changing landscape structure through government policies to expand woodlands may affect human risk of exposure to tick-borne diseases by changing the abundance and movements of key tick and pathogen hosts such as deer and rodents. To test the effect of woodland size and connectivity to other woodlands on key host abundance and on tick density we sampled from 60 woodland sites across a gradient of woodland patch size and connectivity across two UK woodland-agricultural landscapes endemic for Lyme disease pathogens in 2022. Effects of woodland size and connectivity on tick and host density were assessed within general linear mixed models accounting for other environmental variables. Our study illustrates the possible impacts of large-scale woodland management policies on the distribution and density of the main tick vector which transmits Lyme disease.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Problem Framing Stakeholder Workshop - Wessex 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Problem Framing workshop - looking at environmental solutions to ticks and tick-borne diseases in the Wessex area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL http://www.ticksolve.ceh.ac.uk
Description Stakeholder Blog: "Deer, Ticks, Lyme Disease and Ticksolve" NatureScot 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was a blog written by key local stakeholders as a result of attending the TickSolve deer capture event. It raises awareness of the risks from tick-borne diseases and the role of deer in transmission, as well as highlighting project activities. It also offers the opportunity for the public to get involved in further project events and activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023
URL https://muirofdinnetnnr.wordpress.com/2023/02/10/deer-ticks-lyme-disease-and-ticksolve/
Description Ticksolve Project Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Project website for stakeholder, general public and any interested professional practioneers to follow project progress and engage with project team
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL http://www.ticksolve.ceh.ac.uk