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Sunday, 11 February, 2001, 17:10 GMT
Floods see rat population explosion
Rats are seeking shelter from wintry weather
A dramatic rise in the number of people reporting rats in their homes has been put down to the rodents fleeing wintry weather outside.

Recent cold weather and flooding is believed to have led the disease-carrying rodents to shelter indoors.

And the situation is only going to get worse because of the increase in the rat population thanks to a succession of milder winters, according to pest controllers.

Rats like to have somewhere that's dry and sheltered to nest

John Davison
Heavy rainfall is believed to have driven rats out from the sewers.

Last year calls to pest controllers rose by 18%.

But this figure will increase by a further 20% this year, according to John Davison, secretary of the National Pest Technicians Association.

Warm shelter

"Rats like to have somewhere that's dry and sheltered to nest.

"They're not bothered by water but they don't want to live in it 24 hours a day," he said.

"The recent flooding will be pushing them to places inhabited by humans, with more going into houses or farm buildings."

He said that in the last few weeks, especially two or three days after a flood, the association had noticed an increase in complaints.

The UK rat population has risen dramatically

And pest controllers tended to find three or four rats at a time.

"When we see an infestation it's usually quite an impressive one," he said.

He put the increase down to factors including global warming and extra litter.

Around 60% of the rodents carry Weil's disease, he added, which causes flu-like symptoms or in more serious cases kidney and heart failure, he added.

2,000 offspring

The average pair of rats can produce 2,000 offspring a year, although it was usually a quarter of this number, according to rat expert Stephen Battersby.

Yalding, Kent
Flooding has driven the rats out from the sewers

"I would think there is one rat for every person in the UK," he said.

But he said the colder weather would have killed some of the young rats, said Mr Battersby, who is a research fellow at the University of Surrey's Robens Centre for Public and Environmental Health.

The average rat grows to a size of around 12 inches.

Severe flood warnings were in place in many parts of the UK for several days this week following another spate of heavy rainfall.

Kent and Yorkshire were among the worst affected areas this week as rivers burst their banks.

Prince Charles is to visit West Yorkshire on Monday.

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