The Rather Clever Brown Rat

Rattus norvegicus

If you are reading this, you probably think that rats are a problem. In writing this leaflet, we think humans are the sole cause of increased rat populations. 

We seem to demonise any animal that is successful. Our solution is to kill a species when it increases in numbers, yet in reality, it will usually be us that has enabled that increase in the first place. Instead of looking at the way we live and the reason we have seen the increase, the accepted way is to kill the wild animal, carry on as we do and repeat the process. 

Questions you should ask yourself with any population bloom.

What is the cause of your bloom? 

Why have the rats moved in?

Can you impact on the rat population size?

Of course, number three is easy to answer if you intend to trap, shoot or poison. But is that action a solution or a sticky plaster, and we would go one step further and ask is that humane, ethical or moral?

Poisoning is a slow and painful death.

Relocation can be a slow death too. 

Releasing a wild animal into an unknown place where it is unaware of the area and ill equipped, is cruel and it is unlikely to survive. The rules and skills and the ability to avoid danger it has adapted in your space will not make it safe in its new place.

 

Rats are mammals and feel pain in the same way as we do. They have also been used in vivisection. A laboratory rat strain, known as a Zucker rat, are bred to be genetically prone to diabetes and a metabolic disorder.

Tamed rats make great pets; they are very friendly and can be taught to perform selected behaviours and tricks. They can be house trained and use latrines, and are also clean and affectionate.

Rats have been used as working animals for tasks such as the sniffing of gunpowder residue, detecting land mines and lots of animal based therapies.

They carry zoonotic diseases such as; Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, Leptospira interrogans, Streptobacillus moniliformis, Salmonella enterica, Trichophyton mentagrophytes and Ornithonyssus bacoti - all wildlife carries diseases, as do humans. In general, humans and the food we eat probably poses the greatest risk to our health. 

Our wildlife needs two basic requirements - somewhere safe to breed and somewhere to feed. If you provide those, naturally or unnaturally, you will be attracting wildlife and in most cases, this is the case for a rat bloom. 

You have provided an abundance of food, a safe real estate and - essential for rats - water. Rats will not survive in large numbers without all three, so it’s really hard to change things.

Feeding Birds

Why are you feeding the birds - is it for you? 

You will be - for the most part - luring wildlife into the open and attracting predators.

Crows, magpies and sparrowhawks all feed on young and small birds, and by attracting them to feeders it enables the predators to ambush and follow them back to nest sites.

 

The wren is one of the UK’s most successful birds as they are very secretive and are rarely lured to feeders…could that be the reason for its success?

If we fed foxes, rabbits, buzzards etc. 24/7 we would increase those populations too, but the increase is not real or sustainable - it is a false population that is totally dependant on you. That is not really a wild animal and doesn’t help that species. Survival of the fittest is what makes the population strong and a constant food supply can negatively affect their health by spreading disease.

Feeding any wild animal falsely supports the population if food is in abundance and when they are not fed, the population that has become dependant starves. Research is showing wildlife habits change when food is provided endlessly and not always for the better. 

 

Support not dependency

So feeding occasionally and in the winter to support your existing population and not providing food in abundance is our advice.  

It’s estimated that we spend £200m a year on bird seed - that is a lot of changed habits! 

Planting and creating natural food sources is far better and it’s sustainable. Goldfinches like thistle as well as niger seeds. Robin's love caterpillars as well as fat balls. Let the wildlife you have live but don’t lure others in. 

Put cameras in nesting boxes and get advice to help them from us.

So if you have been feeding birds, you probably have rats and then you have probably poisoned them and they have come back, so let's break the cycle - stop feeding the birds. 

Now you have stopped feeding you will probably still have your rats; they have learnt to survive and eat other available food but your seed has been the core. Now they will turn to other food in desperation and may have other sources. 

Do your neighbours feed and are they willing to stop? Have you provided habitats for them to breed in and be free from predators?

Wheelie bins are pretty much rat proof so store all seed, pet food and rat edibles away. Remove all external food sources, which will include all vegetables and fruits. 

The summer provides an abundance of natural food and it will be hard to get the population under control, but as we go into winter the food will become scarcer. We lose 80% of our garden birds through the winter - it’s a natural cycle. Few animals breed when food is scarce and rats are no different.

Habitat walls, compost heaps, piles of rubbish and other inaccessible areas provide safe homes - rats like to be hidden and protected. You may even need to raise the bottoms of your hedges to remove the cover and expose the entrances. 

We are happy to visit you to give advice. The years of feeding and poisoning have brought you here so don’t expect a quick fix. 

The larger your property, the easier it is to solve as you will have the ability to control a large part of the environment that is causing the bloom. 

Communication with your neighbours is essential whilst always remembering that they have all the rights over their own domain. 

We are always happy to help and are sharing this page in the early stages of your journey to reduce the population. 

Good luck and remember you are dealing with living, breathing, intelligent mammals so please be humane and make it work.

All wildlife deserves a space and respect!

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