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‘My career change in France was all thanks to a rat problem’

In the UK Robert Moon was a private eye but rodents in his French house – plus a friend’s help – kicked off an unlikely new profession as a pest controller

On the case: Robert Moon left his PI work behind to retrain as a pest controller Pic: Robert Moon

When I describe my working life to others, I always say I have fallen into the different careers I’ve had.

I have done a bit of chauffeuring, process-serving (similar to a huissier in France) and have also worked as a motorbike instructor.

In 1991, a lawyer friend asked me to do some research into a client’s background. I did such a good job that I began to get regular work, digging up information for criminal defence lawyers and working as a private investigator, something I did for 15 years.

Time for a change

But in 2006, I wanted a change. My wife Lesley and I sold our house in Surrey and went on a motorbike tour of France. In Cher, we came across a quaint village of just 316 inhabitants. We fell in love with Bessais-le-Fromental, and, with money in the bank from our sale, were able to purchase a house on the spot.

I picked up a job as a school bus driver for a while to help make ends meet as we settled in, but always knew I wanted to do something else. I just wasn’t sure what!

Rat infestation

A rat infestation changed my life. Our stone cottage had a problem with rodents so I called a friend in England for some help. He is a lecturer in pest controlling and told me the basics.

When I rang to say we were now rat-free, he had a suggestion: “Ever thought of training in pest control?”

He had found professional training courses in France – the certificates Certibiocide (for the treatment of pests that can be harmful to humans or animals) and the Certiphyto (for the treatment of pests that can be harmful to plant life).

Both courses were four days long and must be renewed every five years.

I enrolled at a training college in Lyon in 2010 and became the only French-qualified British pest controller in France. Although I had come to France with very little French, I had acquired enough by that point to complete the course successfully.

Go-to expert on Asian hornets

Since qualifying, I have stayed up to date on the best methods – whether the problem is hornets, insects or vermin. In fact, I have become the go-to expert on Asian hornets, with appearances on The One Show and UK radio.

Read more: France to take action against Asian hornets and other invasive insects

I also give lectures to pest control organisations in the UK and run training courses for French pest controllers in Paris on Asian hornets. It is so important, especially with so much misinformation about.

It is amazing how many people think they can set themselves up as a pest controller in France. In the UK, there are no official regulations for pest controllers. In France, however, it is a legal requirement to be qualified, insured, registered and have a Siret number.

British pest control diplomas are not valid in France and it is a dangerous job to take on without the proper know-how – for the pest controllers themselves, for their clients and even for their clients’ neighbours.

‘Not a glamorous occupation’

Tackling pests is not a glamorous occupation, but there is a sense of satisfaction in knowing that you are dealing with a problem that has been making someone’s life a misery.

There are similarities with my private investigation work – looking for clues, piecing evidence together and solving the case.

I adore my job. Every day has so much variety, and I have to assess each situation differently. People are always happy to see me, pay me and say they would never have coped without me.

Word of mouth spreads fast and I am never short of work. In summer, my busiest time, I often work 14-hour days. In winter, my days are shorter.

In future, I might go into the training arena as there is so much demand.

Unusual birthday present

These days I have another pest controller on my team. For Lesley’s birthday in 2020, I treated her to a place on a pest control course. Friends thought I was mad, but she enjoyed the training and we are now both able to work in the same field.

When I first set up, I sometimes travelled long distances, but now I am busy with local clients and rarely journey more than 50km.

However, I also offer advice over the internet and phone. I want to help people, however I can. Having pests can be stressful and I want to give people back their joie de vivre.

I never thought I would become a pest controller – and certainly didn’t think I would find a job that made me so happy. Life has taken me this way and I am really grateful. I suppose, in a way, I have the rats to thank for helping me to find my vocation.

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