Tick numbers on the rise

Ticks are becoming much more common now across large parts of England, particularly in woodlands, along woodland edges, on heathland and moorland and in some grassland sites. Their numbers are increasing largely due to the increase in deer numbers. Reports from the public about ticks in gardens are also increasing. With deer moving into urban areas and now becoming a more common feature in gardens, they are bringing ticks with them. This is surprising for many people, particularly where they have only recently become a problem.

So, what are these ticks and what can we do to stop getting bitten by them? More to the point, why are ticks a health concern?

Ticks are blood sucking members of the spider family. We have about 20 species in the UK and most of them feed on specific wild animals like bats, woodland birds, badgers and foxes. In contrast though, the sheep or deer tick Ixodes Ricinus feeds on practically all animals, including mammals, birds, reptiles, humans and pets (particularly dogs). This tick can be active all year, but numbers start to increase from late March, peaking in late spring and summer and will remain active until October.

The woodland in and around Rocky Valley is a perfect habitat for ticks. As well as providing a habitat for the animals they feed on, it also provides a moist microclimate for their survival. Ticks spend the majority of their three year life in the leaf litter, trying to avoid drying out. Periodically, when the conditions are right, they climb up the vegetation and ‘quest’ for animals. Without eyes they don’t see us, but they can sense the carbon dioxide we breathe out, the vibrations we make as we walk and our heat. Questing ticks wave their front legs around, and should you get too close and brush the vegetation they will actually climb on.

They’re after your blood and they’ve probably been waiting quite a while. They will walk up your skin until they find an area like the back of your knees, your armpits, your waist or groin and begin to feed. It’s not pleasant but you don’t actually feel it. 

The reason why ticks are best avoided is that they can transmit bacteria during feeding that causes Lyme borreliosis, commonly known as Lyme disease. The infection can be serious if not treated. Symptoms of Lyme disease can include a slowly expanding circular reddish rash, flu-like feeling, fatigue, muscle and joint pain. Most cases are cleared up with a course of antibiotics but without treatment, more serious conditions such as meningitis, facial palsy, nerve damage and arthritis can develop, so prevention and early detection are crucial. 


The best defences against Lyme disease is preventing tick bites.  Ticks are very small, so are not easy to see, although after a while you get your eye in. The nymph is the size of a freckle, and the larvae are even smaller and often go unnoticed.

When you walk through woodland, make sure that you keep to the middle of path and trying to avoid overhanging vegetation. Ticks don’t jump or fly.  If you do brush vegetation, check your legs regularly to brush any ticks off.  Wearing pale trousers enables you to see them better, and tucking trousers into socks helps. Wellies are also a good defence.

Insect repellants can help and if you have a dog, make sure their tick treatment is up to date.

In addition to regular tick checks as you walk through woodland and long grass, it’s worth checking again when you get home.


The quickest and simplest way to remove a tick is to use a pair of fine tipped tweezers or a tick removal tool. The mouthparts of the tick are barbed and can be hard to remove, so a bit of force is required. An immediate quick swab on an antiseptic wipe will also be of benefit.

Finally, remember to watch for any symptoms of Lyme disease and consult with your GP if you feel unwell.

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