RATS are thriving across the UK due to milder winters, experts have warned.

National trade body, British Pest Control Association (BPCA), says the pest’s population has been increasing year on year.

Rats can spread disease through their urine and need to gnaw daily – which can cause damage to gas and water pipes as well as electrical cables.

Dee Ward-Thompson, BPCA Technical Manager, said: “It goes without saying that rat infestations can have a devastating impact on personal wellbeing.

“Aside from the health risks, the sound of them scuttling around the home, the evidence of their presence and the damage they can cause do little to help householders sleep easy.

“In the past, harsh winters were a natural method of culling those numbers. Milder winters in recent years have helped rat populations thrive.

“Rats are hard-wired to survive. They are adaptable, highly mobile and breed rapidly. As a result, rodent control can be an uphill task for the untrained individual."

How do I know if there are rats in or near my home?

Halstead Gazette: Rat droppings. Credit: BPCARat droppings. Credit: BPCA

  1. One of the most common signs that rats have paid a visit is their faeces, which are dark and pellet-shaped, and look like large grains of rice.

These tend to be clustered in certain areas, as rats often use the same spot to do their business and can leave up to 40 droppings in one night.

2. Another clue can be gnawing marks on electrical cables, woodwork, plastic, brick and lead pipes, as well as torn bags of foodstuff and materials

3. In dusty, unused areas of a building, rats often leave footprints or tail marks

4. Rats can also leave a more unusual calling card; a greasy residue professionals call ‘smear marks’. Smear marks occur from their coats rubbing on the walls as they make their way along these trails to their nest or in search of food

5. You may also be able to hear the rats scratching, gnawing and scuttling around.

Brown rats are prone to grinding their teeth and chattering when stressed, both very distinctive sounds.

But correct identification is key, as these sounds can also be attributed to a squirrel infestation.

How can I prevent them coming into my home?

Halstead Gazette: How to prevent rats in your home. Credit: BPCAHow to prevent rats in your home. Credit: BPCA

1. Eliminate any gaps around pipes and under sheds

Rats only need a gap of 15mm to gain entry to a structure.

You will need to search for any potential entry points and seal these up with wire wool embedded in quick-setting cement.

You should focus on low level gaps first as these are the most likely areas for rats to enter. You can then consider any higher up vents or gaps.

Check around pipes and windows, and double check the basement.

2. Remove potential nesting sites by keeping yards and gardens clean and tidy

Cut back overgrown areas and clear any piles of wood or debris.

Compost heaps can also become nesting sites - protect them with wire mesh

3. Think about drains

Ensure that drain inspection covers are in a good state of repair and any disused pipes are sealed off.

4. Feed birds carefully

If you feed garden birds, do not do this to excess and use a bird table or feeder basket if possible, to catch any off cast seed.

In urban areas, taking in bird feed at dusk is a way to remove an easy food supply during normal feeding time.

5. Don’t dump food straight into your wheelie bin

Rats are really good at sniffing out their next meal.

Don’t lure them to your bin by placing loose food waste straight in the container.

Instead, keep it under wraps with compostable liners, plastic bags or refuse sacks, which will help control smells and make sure it doesn’t stick to the sides of containers.

It’s also a good idea to give your indoor and outdoor bins a rinse with disinfectant and hot water.

What should I do if I think I have rats?

Halstead Gazette: What to do if you think you have rats. Credit: BPCAWhat to do if you think you have rats. Credit: BPCA

Attempts by householders and businesses to tackle rat problems themselves can pose risks to public health and the environment as dead rodents need to be disposed of in a safe manner and poorly placed poisons or traps can pose a danger to other animals, children and pets.

BPCA has a strong warning to anyone using rodenticides – always follow the instructions on the label, and importantly search for and dispose of any dead rodents in a safe manner.

Dee added: “When poison is consumed by a rat, it is likely that it will die in a cavity or roof space from which a bad smell can emit.

“If you cannot locate the dead rodent, it may take several weeks for the body to decompose and the smell to dissipate.

“Leaving these in the open can result in secondary poisoning of non-target animals, such as pets or birds scavenging on the carcass.

“Although it is not recommended to tackle these pests yourself, if you decide to give it a go then you must take all necessary precautions to ensure you do not cause collateral damage or suffer personal injury.”

For more advice about preventing or dealing with rats, a new online guide and video are available at bpca.org.uk/rats