Tick-borne disease burdens are increasing across Europe and the UK in response to changes in land use, climate and deer populations and may be further exacerbated by planned woodland expansion and future climate change.
Diseases caused by tick bites, if untreated, can sometimes cause serious illnesses and be potentially fatal for people and animals. Ticks are found in areas of dense vegetation such as woodland, heathland and long grass, and use mammals (including deer, cattle, sheep and dogs) or birds as hosts, feeding on their blood. Deer are particularly important in supporting tick populations because they feed all a tick’s life stages and can move them across a landscape.
A four-year project, ‘TickSolve’, will investigate the ecological conditions that enable tick-borne infections to spread, identify areas of the UK where the health risks are likely to be highest and put forward possible solutions. TickSolve will determine whether climate change and woodland expansion are likely to increase tick-borne infections such as Lyme disease in the UK.
The project involves scientists at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), the University of Liverpool, the University of Glasgow and the UK Health Security Agency. It is being funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), part of UK Research and Innovation.
The research will focus on three tick-borne diseases that pose a current or potential risk to the UK:
- Lyme disease, which already affects several thousand people a year in the UK and is thought to be increasing.
- Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), which is fairly common in parts of Europe with two probable human cases recently detected in the UK. It can cause serious neurological illnesses.
- Crimean Congo Haemorrhagic Fever, which is expanding in western Europe but is not yet present in the UK.
TickSolve will use a co-production process with stakeholders across sectors to develop ecological interventions, risk guidance and tools from research.