Rats Are Everywhere, But When Seen In Gardens & Allotments Cause Health Contamination Concerns. Here’s How Can Garden Rats Be Controlled?

Rats are ubiquitous and can be found in many environments, including gardens and allotments in the UK. While they are often regarded as harmless scavengers, the presence of rats in these areas can raise health concerns due to the potential for contamination of fruits, vegetables, and other edible plants. If you’re a gardener or an allotment owner in the UK, it’s crucial to understand the history, life cycle, and control methods of these rodents to ensure a safe and healthy environment for your plants and yourself.

History of Rats in the UK

Rats have been present in the UK for centuries, with historians tracing the black rat’s presence back to the Roman Empire. However, it wasn’t until the 17th – 19th centuries that rat populations began to explode due to the growth of urban areas and the expansion of the British Empire. It was then that the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) came into the country and displaced the rarer black rat (Rattus rattus) aka the port rat. The increased trade and travel brought rats to new areas, including gardens and allotments, where they found ample food sources.

Life Cycle of Rats

Rats are prolific breeders, with a female rat capable of producing up to five litters per year, each containing up to 12 offspring. They start breeding at three manta s with the average lifespan of a rat being one year. In captivity they can live up to three years. Rats are largely nocturnal creatures, which means they are active during the night and sleep during the day. Thats partly why we don’t see them often, though the average person is rarely many metres away from a rat! They are excellent climbers, swimmers, and diggers, making it easy for them to access gardens and allotments.

The Rat’s Preferred Diet

In the wild, rats feed on almost anything with a preference for grains, seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables. They sometimes eat smaller animals or insects, but this has to be opportune as they aren’t really hunters.

The preventative measure of using chicken wire under compost bins is unlikely to keep them out as they climb up the outside and get in the top.

Likewise thick plastic bins are no challenge to them. they just chew through the plastic. On farms I’ve seen them chew through metal feed bins to get at the food inside. And I’ve seen they run up brick walls that looked quite smooth to me!

Rat’s Habits

Rats practice coprophagy. they eat their own faeces. They do this to obtain vitamins and trace elements they didn’t extract the first time!

Rats prefer to keep out of site of humans and predators. It’s why they tend to keep to the edges of building, fences and hedges other than running across open spaces. This is the reason that rat exterminators leave their baited traps along the edges of buildings, where the rats will travel.

Rats like compost bins. There are two or three reasons. It contains lots of potential food. If there is meat or cooked food they love it but they’ll take veg waste to plants if they have to. Bins also provide shelter from wind, rain. frost etc AND the stop cats and owls predating them.

Constant disturbance is something they don’t like. So frequently opening the compost bin or stirring the contents is something that helps them decide to look for somewhere quieter.

Rat Carried Diseases

Rats carry a number of diseases they can transmit to humans.

Leptospirosis (often referred to as Weil’s disease)

Salmonella

Listeria

Toxoplasma gondii

Hantavirus.

So eating crops without washing and cooking is risky where there are many rats

Control Methods

There are several recommendd methods to control rats in gardens and allotments. This can be a controversial area so I’m giving a list of methods that can be employed with comments but without making judgement on them. It’s for everyone to make their own decisions.

  • Trapping: Using humane traps to capture rats and release them in a safe location away from your garden or allotment.
  • Poisoning: Using rat poison baits that contain warfarin or other anticoagulants to kill rats. However, this method can pose a risk to pets and other wildlife.
  • Natural predators: Encouraging natural predators like foxes, cats, and owls to control the rat population.
  • Rat Proofing: Sealing up any holes or gaps in your garden or allotment to prevent rats from entering. I’d say this is impossible, but it’s often recommended.
  • Hygiene: Keeping your garden or allotment clean and tidy to remove potential food sources for rats. But as they eat many vegetable and plants that isn’t easy.
  • Disturbance: If it’s too noisy or disturbed they might go elsewhere.

Conclusion

Rats are a common problem in UK gardens and allotments, but by understanding their history, life cycle, and control methods, you can effectively manage their population and prevent them from causing health concerns. By implementing the control methods mentioned above, you can create a safer and healthier environment for your plants and yourself.

Image Attribution: Zeynel Cebeci, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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2 thoughts on “Rats In Gardens & Allotments

  1. David Jones says:

    Absolutely agree with all the above. By their very existence, allotments are a really attractive home for rats, particularly compost heaps and bins which provide food, security, warmth and comfort. It seems that we are unlikely ever to be rat-free: the best we can hope for is to control their numbers using whatever methods we are happiest with.

    1. Stefan Drew says:

      agreed. they love the countryside. Allotments are the same to them as farms, fields etc.

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