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Thursday, 1 August, 2002, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Rats threaten to engulf streets
Rat in a hamburger graphic from The Keep Britain Tidy group
Rats are thriving on dumped litter
An explosion in the UK's rat population has been blamed on people dropping food litter in the street.

Environmental health experts say that rats are feasting on increasing amounts of dumped leftovers, with no incentive to return to the sewers.

They have warned that it will soon be as common to see a rat on the street as a dog or a cat.

Keep Britain Tidy advert
The more you drop, the more we eat
The more we eat, the more we breed
The more we breed, the closer we get
Stop feeding a rat - use a bin
The Keep Britain Tidy group said the rat population has grown by 24% in the last two years alone.

It is now estimated to be 60 million - roughly one for each person living in the UK.

Spokesman Peter Gibson told BBC Radio 5 Live there were three reasons for the population explosion.

"The weather has been a bit milder and that can often help rats.

"Secondly there has been cutbacks in pest control expenditure.

"But third... an increase in the amount of food litter that we're dropping.

'Rodent hordes'

"People are not giving it a second thought, we're just throwing food onto the ground and this is proving to be a bit of a feast for the rats."

The group has warned that if people continue to dump take-away litter, rather than put it in bins, hordes of rodents will roam the streets.

It is launching a cinema advertising campaign to highlight the problem.

Rat facts
60 million rats in UK
That is one for each person
Rats breed so fast, a pair can produce a colony of 2,000 within a year

Mr Gibson said people often wrongly thought councils would come and clean up their litter.

And he said even biodegradable items such as apple cores can cause a problem.

"For every minute it's actually on the ground, it's there for the rats to eat - and that's what they're doing."

Mr Gibson said the fast food industry was also partly to blame, with rubbish being stacked up outside outlets.

The group is working with the government to set up a code of practice for the fast food industry.

Have you noticed more litter or rats around? Who's to blame?

E-mail us using the form below. You can read a selection of your comments here.

Can't we keep the rats and exterminate the litterbugs?
Martin, England

In my local area it appears that takeaways and restaurants are adding to the problem! Even when their rubbish is cleared away they do not clean their bins and so there is always food residues and worse left in and around the bins - surely they should be made to clean and not just empty their bins by the environmental health.
Liz, England

I've noticed a lot more litter in my local area since the new McDonalds was opened earlier this year, there aren't many bins around either so it does escalate the problem.
Andrew, UK

I lived in London last year and our local council didn't provide bins for our black sacks. This meant that every week when you put the bins out the rats would eat through the bottom of the sacks to get the food.
Jon Newton, UK

It must be the council's fault. It can't possibly be the fault of the people who drop it!
Stewart Monk, England

I live in Nottingham and I've noticed an increase in rats around the city centre. Nottingham's always been a relatively clean city, but I suppose the blame for the increase in litter and then rats must lay partly with the people of the city and partly with the council. The more litter left laying around the less likely people will be to worry about dropping it!
Adam Turner, England

The British are notoriously uncaring about their physical environment - ask any European - and now it appears to be time to pay the price. What with limited outbreaks of something that looks suspiciously like bubonic plague in India in the last few years, mightn't we consider something a little more practical than just discussing a, presumably voluntary, code of conduct. Educating people to take pride in their towns and cities, maybe?
Jake, Bristol

Yes: more litter and more rats. My Jack Russell has already killed two on my street in central London. I never saw nearly as much rubbish dropping in any country as in London. Rubbish and not the rats are the big problem.
Alp, England

An explosion in the rat population comes as no surprise. Despite the best efforts of most councils to keep the streets clean, some rather dirty people just can't be bothered to use bins.

And should disease start to become a problem again, they will no doubt blame the state for the result of their own carelessness. One can only hope that the state is better prepared for human epidemics than it was for foot and mouth disease. What does the World Health Authority say on this matter?
Mike, UK

Apart from my two pet rats, I've only ever seen one rat while out in public (several when Iżve been in London on the tube).

If I got a pound of every piece of litter I've seen I'd be a billionaire!

It's humans that cant be bothered to put litter in the bins that are causing the problem, not the rats! Its the human disrespect for a "green environment".
Rob, England

I would welcome rats on the street instead of tracksuited, baseball cap and sovereign ring wearing neds. Rats are far more polite and do not seem to breed at such an alarming rate. C'mon the rats!
Lachlan, Glasgow, UK

This is definitely on the increase! We live in a nice "clean" area but recently discovered rats in our loft! An extremely traumatic experience for us. The problem is that too many people (and it's usually teenagers), just simply discard food items in hedgerows and bushes etc - providing a feast fit for a rat!
Paul, England

You don't have enough garbage bins on your streets. You need several on each block near a restaurant or school. People won't carry garbage more than a few yards: to get responsible users, you have to provide the means.
Inverie, Canada

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Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"Our preoccupation with fast food has led to an explosion in the rat population"
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07 May 99 | UK
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