Page last updated at 11:53 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Yorkshire rat population explodes

Poorly secured rubbish bins were providing rats with a source of food

Rat infestations in Yorkshire jumped by almost one third last year, the biggest rise in the UK, pest controllers say.

Councils in the region handled 29,483 complaints in 2007/2008, up 30% on the previous year, said the National Pest Technicians Association (NPTA).

The surge was caused by an explosion in the rat population during the mild winter of 2006/2007.

Rats were then forced into the open when floods hit Yorkshire in June 2007, prompting a rise in reported sightings.

The NPTA said the exceptional flooding had probably distorted the figures for Yorkshire because rats had been driven into buildings and other public areas.

"It is disappointing because Yorkshire Water is one of only two water companies nationwide that actually do play their part in pest control with regular sewer baiting," said NPTA director Iain Turner.

This clearly highlights the danger of assuming rats aren't there just because they aren't that obvious
Barrie Sheard, NPTA chairman

"And Leeds City Council is one of the few local authorities which takes a proactive approach to rodent control."

Nationally, the annual rodent survey found that councils had a total of 378,000 call-outs for rat problems in 2007/8, up 15% on the previous year.

The NPTA puts the surge in rodent problems across the country down to a failure to control populations in the previous year.

It said that the exceptionally mild winter of 2006/7 meant rats were far less evident than usual in and around buildings.

This led to a marked decline in the number of complaints, leaving relatively large populations to profit from excellent early summer breeding conditions and causing problems to surge with the onset of colder autumn weather in 2007.

"This clearly highlights the danger of assuming rats aren't there just because they aren't that obvious," said NPTA chairman Barrie Sheard.

Problem 'worsening'

He said the increasing accessibility of attractive food sources through over-feeding of garden birds, littering and fly-tipping and poorly secured household waste had encouraged rodent populations to grow.

"Unless local authorities, utilities and other businesses can find new ways of working together and with householders to combat rats through well-planned and co-ordinated professional treatment, we can only see our national rodent problem becoming progressively worse," he said.

The NPTA said it was concerned recessionary pressures would lead to "poorly-undertaken DIY treatments" or "cut price 'cowboy' services".

"If we are not very careful indeed, the recession will play into the hands of rats by providing them with an increasing supply of vacant houses and empty commercial and industrial premises.

"These are just the sort of safe and undisturbed environments completely free from pest control in which they thrive."

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