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rodent in rubbish

Rats: tackling the issues head on

by Gemma Melling

While it’s almost impossible to rid any area of common pests like rats and mice, there are steps that everyone (residents, landlords, landowners, the council and other partners) can take to help control rats and importantly keep them away from homes, businesses and gardens.

In Knowsley, a lot of work is underway to address and respond to the issues caused by rat infestations when they do occur.

Here’s what’s happening and what you can do to help.

What encourages rats to be in an area / home?

There are various factors which make a place attractive to rats – available harbourage (places to hide), water and sewerage networks and food sources.

Rats need the tiniest invitation to explore land, homes, businesses, garages, sheds and piles of rubbish! This includes gaps under paving stones, holes in bins, drainage pipes that are in disrepair, excess rubbish left outside or rubbish that is not properly contained, food that hasn’t been bagged and binned properly, broken grids, gaps in cavity walls or gaps in fencing to name just a few. Even just overgrown gardens or bird feed can attract pests and provide shelter for them.

Given how quickly rats reproduce (every 6 weeks!) it doesn’t require much time for a small issue to become something much more concerning. Preventative measures are by far the best way to tackle the issue.

What can people do to prevent rats?

There are a number of simple things you can do to help prevent rats.

  • Clear up food spillages immediately and move household refuse outside regularly – ensure rubbish is securely bagged and then binned.
  • Use suitable containers (such as wheelie bins) and ensure they are put out for collection regularly.
  • Dispose of fast food wrappers and containers responsibly – food stained boxes and paper are attractive to rats.
  • Make sure you replace any cracked or damaged bins.
  • Do not put food waste in compost bins.
  • Place compost bins on a wire base to keep rodents out.
  • Remove any accumulated rubbish (including garden cuttings and unwanted garden furniture) as rats can make a home in untidy outdoor spaces, especially if there is a local food source.
  • Don’t leave pet food outdoors and don’t use bird feeders (even suspended ones). Rats can climb and any spilt food will attract them.
  • Keep gardens well maintained – overgrown gardens can attract pests.
  • Repair external structural faults to your home, holes and around pipes or cover damaged air vents with fine mesh (do not block air vents).
  • Secure areas located under raised decking, underneath sheds and summer houses.
  • Install draught excluders to fill gaps beneath external doors.
  • Remember that issues such as fly tipping, overflowing bins etc can lead to rat infestations so please report any issues online, promptly at knowsley.gov.uk.

What does Knowsley Council do to prevent rats?

 Alongside it’s general waste and recycling collections, the council also provides daily litter picking across the borough and street cleansing activities. Much of this work is targeted specifically around shopping areas and schools to ensure waste is cleared quickly and no opportunities are created for rats to nest. The council also operates a swift response system to tackle any reports of fly-tipping which can attract rats and provide temporary shelter.

The council’s Environmental Health team are regularly out and about across the borough to identify potential issues or sites where rats could be attracted – such as land where waste or undergrowth may have been allowed to accumulate. In those cases, the council either clears the site or works with the landowner to ensure they do.

The council also takes a proactive approach to working with landlords (including registered social landlords and private landlords) to ensure that they fulfil their statutory obligations and are proactive in tackling and preventing pests. This includes ensuring that properties with overgrown gardens and excess rubbish are cleared swiftly.

General advice and guidance is provided to homeowners and occupiers of properties (residents and commercial) and council officers make regular visits to properties to identify areas of risk such as structural defects which are allowing pests to gain access.  As part of these visits, if issues are identified and action is not being taken, notices under the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 are served. This enforcement action has increased year on year with 81 notices issued in 2016 and 262 issues in 2020.

Where new development is taking place, the council works closely with developers to identify the risk of pest displacement and ensure that solutions are implemented to reduce the impact on neighbouring properties and the local area.

Where rat infestations do occur, Knowsley Council provides a Pest Control Service – further information is available on the council’s website. The council’s Pest Control Officers make thousands of visits to Knowsley homes and businesses throughout the year.

What about sewer baiting?

In Knowsley, the council jointly funds a sewer-baiting programme with United Utilities (this is a £15,000 investment per year from the council in this programme) who are responsible for the work being carried out. This helps to control the rat population across the borough.

The 2023 programme is already underway with inspections taking place across the borough.

Signs to look out for around your home

Rats are extremely mobile and will constantly seek out food and shelter. They will nest and live in cellars, loft spaces, wall cavities or under floorboards. They can burrow under grassy banks, in compost heaps or under sheds. The signs to look out for include:

  • Cigar-shaped droppings (around 10mm long).
  • Signs of gnawing (on fruit, vegetables, wood or electric cables).
  • Footprints, tail swipes or dark grey smears from rat fur left on surfaces.
  • Burrow holes (between 7mm and 120mm) found under tree roots, drain cover surrounds, grassy banks and the edges of paving.

 Where to look for signs of rats:

  • Decking – check the edges of decked areas for signs of damage from gnawing and burrowing. Under decking is an area rats often use to nest.
  • Sheds – look for rat holes around the edges of sheds and outbuildings. Rats like to burrow next to solid structures like walls.
  • Garages – check for gaps around door frames or holes gnawed at the bottom of wooden doors.
  • Compost bins – compost heaps are warm and contain food. Check lid and base of composters for holes and gnaw marks.
  • Vegetation – look for holes among tree and shrub roots, in overgrown vegetation.
  • Drains – check if drain covers are damaged or if there are holes dug next to the drain covers.

What should I do if I think I have a rat problem?

Act quickly. The sooner you take steps to tackle the issue, the quicker it is likely to be resolved.

If you live in a rented property, contact your landlord to arrange treatment of rats or a repair to your property as soon as possible.

To report drainage defects, contact United Utilities on 0345 672 3723.

If you are a property owner, Knowsley Council provides a Pest Control Service which provides support with rats, mice and wasp issues in homes and businesses and offers humane and environmentally-friendly treatments.

The council is a member of the British Pest Control Association (BCPA). You can find out more on the council website and book a pest control visit.

There are also many private companies offering pest control services in the area.

You can find out lots more on The British Pest Control Association (BPCA) or on the council’s website.