Zoonotic diseases are major causes of infection related morbidity and mortality worldwide. Of the various arthropods capable of transmitting pathogens that cause such diseases to humans, ticks, which are vectors of more kinds of pathogens than any other group of invertebrate, have become an increasing focus of attention. This is particularly the case in the temperate northern hemisphere where they are a significant vector of human disease. Here, we provide an overview of the complex ecological systems defining the various epidemiological cycles of tick-borne diseases. We highlight the abiotic and biotic factors influencing the establishment and persistence of tick populations and their associated pathogens. Furthermore, we emphasize the dynamic nature of such systems, especially when they are under the influence of both small and large-scale anthropogenic changes to the environment. Although a great deal of work has been done on ticks and the diseases which they transmit, the very dynamism of the system means that new factors are continually arising which shift the epidemiological pattern within specific areas. We therefore consider that more detailed, long-term (i.e. at least 10 years), multidisciplinary studies need to be carried out to define why and how these pattern shifts take place and to determine their public health significance.