Friday 7 February 2020

We may be celebrating the Chinese Year of the Rat, but there is concern over the growing number that are trying to make themselves at home in our homes.

They may be cute in cartoons and fiction, but no-one wants wild rats living close to us.

How do councils and housing associations cope with the growing number of rats and rat infestations in the UK? What are their responsibilities for maintaining rat free spaces for tenants and the public?

Vermin control is proving more necessary and more difficult this winter as rats are found in abundance in properties, gardens, on waste land and development sites, and in public spaces.

It is proving a difficult year for councils, housing associations and businesses to manage infestations effectively. Vermin control specialists are overwhelmed with call-outs, with teams working seven days a week in some areas to manage rat populations. It’s as big a problem in rural areas as it is in urban environments.

Rat facts

  • Rats do not hibernate. The colder it is the less active they are and the less they breed, so the less energy they need. In mild winters they are more active and expend more energy, so they roam further looking for food.
  • In mild winters rat populations increase far more and more quickly than in cold winters.
  • Rats can eat just about anything - rubbish, clothes, paper, nuts, seeds, vegetables, cooked food.
  • Rats have to drink every day – unlike mice, who can go for weeks without water - one reason rats like to live near a water source.
  • Rats are problem solvers, have good memories and are sociable and work together to achieve a common objective. They form communities and look after sick, injured and pregnant rats in their group.
  • Rats can chew through lead, cinder block, aluminium, glass, brick, vinyl and even concrete. They are excellent tunnellers and climbers!
  • Rats are not only thriving in number, but studies indicate they are getting bigger too! All those takeaways are creating super rats!

Why are there more rats?

This autumn and winter’s wet and mild weather across most of the UK has led to an increase in rat sightings and extermination call-outs. Saturated land, and flooded drains and sewers have driven rats from their burrows to find shelter and food. Warmer winter weather has encouraged them to breed more, so not only are we more likely to encounter them but there are more of them!

The explosion of fast food outlets and food on the go has led to more litter and discarded food on the streets and in public spaces. The terrorism threat has led to a reduction in public litter bins for safety reasons and lazy eaters drop food and wrappings. Rats take away our leftover takeaways.

In 2016 Paris was forced to close five city parks due to rat infestations. The authorities had to re-design litter bins and work together to clear roads, parks and sewers. At the time there were estimated to be six million rodents in Paris - 2.5 per person.

The routine collection of food waste from domestic properties is helping to solve one environmental problem but is leading to another, with rats sniffing out food waste bins and at the same time discovering warm, dry properties to nest in.

In recent years increased fly tipping (which can often take some time to be cleared) has created perfect homes and breeding grounds for rats. As do domestic and industrial compost heaps.

What are landlords’ and property owners’ rat responsibilities?

Prevention measures

  • Keep common areas and public spaces clean and tidy.
  • Ensure litter picking is regular and thorough.
  • Enforce fines for littering in public spaces.
  • Fit rat proof litter bins in common areas and public spaces.
  • Collect food waste regularly.
  • Communicate the importance of managing food waste correctly.
  • Collect household waste regularly.
  • Provide compost bins with lockable lids for residents and tenants.
  • Collect green waste.
  • Ensure regular property inspections and maintenance regimes include rat awareness and reporting.
  • Repair holes in masonry and timber quickly to prevent rats entering buildings.
  • Ensure vermin control specialists are recognised suppliers so they can be commissioned to act quickly.
  • Communicate the importance of adequate food storage and high domestic hygiene standards to residents and tenants.

It looks like the UK rat problem will continue to be a risk, with global warming leading to warmer and wetter winters throughout the UK – perfect weather for rats! This is happening now.

In February 2019 the UK experienced its warmest winter day on record, a balmy 21.2°C recorded at Kew Gardens. Autumn 2019 rainfall records were broken for South Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, and Lincolnshire. In 2019 England as a whole had its fifth wettest autumn with 348mm of rainfall.

Make this year, your year of the rat!

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