The well known adage “prevention is better than cure” has never been more important than for the wildlife, domestic livestock and pets put at risk by careless baiting with rat poisons.
Farm buildings are particularly susceptible to an infestation as are other sites where there is a readily available foodsource. It is imperative that sites such as these are kept tidy and clear of spillages, rubbish and debris. The rat will be delighted to find such a variety of foodstuffs next to a ready made harbourage.
Rodent proof containers are ideal for storing such foodstuffs. Remember, rats gnaw by nature and can chew through metals such as aluminium and copper as well as glass.
Don’t leave food out for other wildlife. If you feed the birds clear up around the bird table and put the food away at night. Equally, clear up spillages from rabbit or guinea pig hutches.
Cover openings with 6mm wire mesh to stop rats and mice getting into buildings. A rat’s body is flexible and cylindrical and a small rat can squeeze through a gap the size of a 10p piece
If you have a rodent problem fit metal kick plates to doors to stop them gnawing through
Trim trees and overhanging vegetation around buildings as removing ground cover will make the area less attractive.
Don’t throw food waste onto the garden as manure – use a purpose made composter if you want to make your own compost.
If, despite all your best efforts a rat infestation does occur, the first recourse should be to traps as this avoids the use of harmful poisons.
Live capture traps are available, but you must remember to check the traps at least daily and humanely dispatch any rodents caught. For this reason these traps are sometimes frowned upon because an animal in a trap is protected under the Wild Mammals Protection Act 1996 and it is a requirement to ensure the animal doesn’t suffer unnecessarily through neglect.
Spring traps or breakback traps are the traditional option and are very successful baited with peanut butter. It is a legal requirement to keep them under cover to protect non-target species such as hedgehogs and birds. Remember also to dispose of dead rodents responsibly. Wear disposable gloves, double bag the rodent and place in your outside bin.
If you decide a rodenticide is necessary remember to take every measure to ensure you minimise the risk of poisoning non-target species.
Make sure you survey the area to establish where the rodent activity is and lay the bait in lockable rat boxes in the appropriate places. If using sachets or blocks, make sure they are secured in position to stop rats moving them. Efficient control limits the amount of poison released into the environment. Hole or burrow baiting can be effective, but treated areas must be covered to prevent other animals taking the bait, and need checking regularly.
Inspect regularly for rodent bodies. Many rats die underground, but as they can die several days after poisoning some may be found above ground up to 100m away. During this time they are a particular threat to hunters such as barn owls who may become victim to secondary poisoning. Any rats found dying should be dispatched immediately. It is an offence not to search for dead rodents when using rodenticides.
Only bait for as long as is necessary to control the problem. Thereafter remove all bait to reduce the risk of poisoning and to avoid the build up of resistance amongst the rat population.
Most rodenticides contain difenacoum, bromadiolone, brodifacoum or flocoumafen. The latter two can only be used if rats are inside a building and must not be used in hedges or ditches.
These rodenticides are very toxic to rodents and only a small amount needs to be ingested to have an effect. Consequently, baiting for a short period of time should be sufficient, say 35 days. Non-toxic indicator bates can be used to monitor any new infestations at an early stage
Many people successfully manage a small rat problem and cause no secondary harm by following the above advise. But remember, if your rodent problem is advanced or very large call in professional help without delay.