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rodent in rubbish

Working together to reduce rat populations

by Gemma Melling

The presence of rats is unfortunately a reality in every area of the country, in every local authority area. They are particularly likely to be found in areas where there are lots of places for them to hide and nest, near water or sewers and where food is plentiful.

When it comes to keeping areas free of vermin, there must be a joint approach between local authorities and partner agencies alongside local residents and businesses. For that reason, Knowsley Council has issued advice, including ‘dos and don’ts’ that will help tackle the problem if people follow them.

The Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 imposes a statutory duty on local authorities to ‘take such steps as are reasonably practicable’ to keep their districts free from rats and mice. Knowsley Council is absolutely committed to fulfilling these obligations, and is taking a large number of actions locally to help with this. But the same act also places the legal responsibility for controlling pests with the owner or occupier of the premises or land on which they are present – for example in private gardens or business premises.

The council is currently receiving higher than average numbers of reports of rat sightings or infestations in the Page Moss area of North Huyton. Investigations by the council have shown that a number of factors are behind this. They include:

  • Overgrown private land (including private gardens)
  • Poor disposal of waste (for example, overflowing household or business waste bins)
  • Fly tipping
  • Bulky waste stored outside.
  • Local development work disturbing land and sewer systems, driving rodents above ground where they are seen more frequently.
  • Existing issues within some of the existing housing stock, including poor tenancy management (for example some properties have visible holes in drains, cavity walls or kitchen and bathroom fittings) and there are examples of poor management of empty homes in the area (possibly from absent private landlords).

Additionally, the council found that some local businesses have poor food hygiene standards and local drainage systems had become blocked by “fat mountains” due to food outlets disposing (illegally) of food and cooking fats directly into the sewer system.

We know there are a great many people in Page Moss and across the borough who are already doing everything they can, keeping their gardens tidy and disposing of waste carefully. Unfortunately rats breed quickly and prolifically, so it can be the actions of just a handful of less responsible landowners who create significant issues for neighbouring properties.

Where informal action and education is insufficient, the council serve notices under this Act to ensure works are completed in a timely manner. In the last 6 months 13 legal notices have been issued to residents and businesses in the Page Moss area.

What is Knowsley Council doing about the issue?

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. The annual sewer baiting programme was reintroduced in 2020 and, in Page Moss specifically, a total of 57 manholes were visited during 2020/21 with a further 50 investigations taking place in 2021/22, and 46 during 2022/23. At the last count, this year (from April to September) there had been a further 19 manhole investigations and subsequent revisits.

We have been holding a series of Environmental Action Days across the borough – with officers from the council carrying out work in specific locations, including the removal of litter, flytipping, graffiti and dog fouling, as well as sewer baiting and smoke tests to identify defective drains. These events are happening all year round, and the next one in Page Moss is on Wednesday, 29 November. They follow similar action days in Page Moss carried out in March 2022, January 2023, July 2023 and September 2023.

At these events we also have representatives from partner agencies, as well as the council, on hand to give out advice on environmental health and health issues, and officers are happy to discuss directly with any residents the issues they are experiencing.

The council also takes a proactive approach to working with landlords (including registered social landlords and private landlords) to remind them of their statutory responsibilities and the need to be proactive in tackling and preventing pests. This includes dealing with properties which have overgrown gardens and ensuring that excess rubbish is cleared swiftly.

Knowsley Council routinely monitors all council-owned land and property in the area, cutting back overgrown vegetation and shrubbery.

Knowsley Council removes reported flytipping quickly – usually within 24 hours – and it carries out daily litter picking and cleansing activities in high risk areas such as town centres, shopping parades and around schools. And there is no evidence to support the claim that fortnightly bin collections or charging for pest control services leads to a spike in cases – very many local authorities across the country have the same policies in place without seeing the same pattern.

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.

The Council shares advice and information about how residents and businesses can help address the issue, sharing a series of ‘frequently asked questions’ on its website and providing specific, targeted guidance to households about managing household waste, garden maintenance and feeding birds/squirrels.

Knowsley Council has kept pest control charges low – the charge for treatment of public health related pests (rats and mice) has remained at a small nominal fee of £24 (including follow-up visits). This charge was brought in in 2017, partly in response to the number of call-outs that were booked when the service was free, but where nobody was there to let in the Pest Control technicians when they called. The service was experiencing high numbers of such “no access” visits every year, meaning that a significant amount of officer time was being taken away from work elsewhere and waiting times for visits were increased. The introduction of a nominal fee (which has not increased since it was introduced six years ago and continues to be subsidised by the council) saw the number of “no access” visits drop significantly to zero in the years following its introduction.

Increased capacity in the service has also been created by hiring additional Pest Control officers – since a review in 2015 highlighted the need for more staff, a team of three dedicated technicians has been put in place.

Knowsley Council has brought in industry experts to assess the borough and explore new approaches. As a result, it is carrying out a number of trials of different solutions in the Page Moss area, including buried multi-chamber boxes and new baits and poisons.

The council is also in the process of replacing all the on-street litter bins at shopping parades in Page Moss with new bins, containing a concealed ‘bait tray’.

The Environmental Health service carry out a routine Food Hygiene inspection programme led by the Food Standards Agency.  This ensures all food businesses are inspected regularly and officers can identify problems that will contribute to pest issues and take enforcement action appropriately.

Environmental Health work closely with social services and carers who are able to identify problem properties and gardens that we ordinarily might not have knowledge of.  We provide training and information leaflets to support this work of front line officers and partners.

Encouraging everyone to play their part

Work is taking place on a daily basis to reduce the presence of rats in Page Moss and across Knowsley, but this is not something the council can tackle on its own.

There are some very simple steps that residents and local businesses can take, which will have a big impact. These include:

  • 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.

Of course, many residents are already taking these steps, and take great pride in their homes and gardens. But now we need everyone to follow their lead and play their part in making Page Moss, and other areas of the borough, less hospitable to these unwanted rodents.

For more information and to report a range of environmental issues, including littering, fly tipping or dog fouling you can ‘Report it’ on Knowsley Council’s website www.knowsley.gov.uk

Cllr Shelley Powell, Knowsley Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities and Neighbourhoods said: “As a council, we are working on a daily basis to tackle this issue, but we simply can’t do it alone.

“In Knowsley, we understand that we are ‘Better Together’. When it comes to preventing rats and other pests, that is certainly true – we all have an important part to play. The council has already, and will continue to invest in actions which help reduce rodent populations, and we’re also supporting and encouraging others to do the same.

“There are some simple steps that local businesses, residents and landowners can take which, combined with the ongoing efforts of Knowsley Council, will help to tackle this issue.”

“We’ll also take action against those whose behaviours are exacerbating the problems for the rest of the community.”

“I’d like to thank all those residents who are already doing the right things. I know they feel frustrated when they see others not following their example. I want to reassure them that this is something the council is treating as a priority, and we are taking multiple actions on a daily basis to address.

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.

Contact the Environmental Health service on 0151 443 4712 or environmentalhealth@knowsley.gov.uk.