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Natural Ways to Tackle Rat Problem

Research at the Central Science Laboratory in York, in collaboration with the University of Leicester, is investigating more humane - and effective - ways of controlling the rat population in the UK.

It has recently been estimated there are at least five million rats roaming the countryside, causing widespread damage to farm buildings, stored grain and other crops.

The research, carried out in North Yorkshire, suggests reducing rats’ harbourage and encouraging predators can be an effective way of reducing rat populations, without using rodenticides which encourage physiological resistance and pose a threat to other wildlife.

In a Department of Biology seminar, Mark Lambert discussed the ecology and control of rats on British farms and looked at some alternatives to rodenticide use.

He said: “There are two species of rat in Britain – the Norway rat which was introduced in the 18th century, and the black rat, or ship rat as it is sometimes called. Norway rats probably originated in the far east and reached the west via trade ships. They are extremely well suited to conditions in the UK and have completely displaced the native black rats, which are now rarely seen.

“The Norway rats cause great damage to farms all over the U.K. They devour crops and cause structural damage to farm buildings. In particular livestock farms attract significant amounts of rats.”

Mr Lambert said the use of rodenticides to eliminate the rat threat was not humane and generally gives short-term results.  Continued use of poisons such as warfarin encourages the spread of  physiological resistance which is now being seen in rat populations in the north of England.  Rodenticides are also lethal to non-target wildlife such as the barn owl and red kite.

Alternative approaches that Mr Lambert has been researching are more humane and cause little risk to other animals and wildlife. There are direct methods, such as trapping or more preferable indirect methods designed to encourage predators or competitors.

Another effective method is to modify habitats by reducing shelter. It has been shown through a variety of trials that there is a clear relationship between the amount of harbourage and the size of rat infestations on farms. More importantly. Reducing harbourage can be just as effective as the use of rodenticides.

Mr Lambert said habitat management has the potential to control Norway rats, encourage beneficial species - and vastly reduce rodenticide usage.

April 2002 

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Last updated: 12 April 2002 17:00
Created by: Rachel Tunstall

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