Posted: Friday 4 January 2013
by Kate Bradbury
For the last few weeks I’ve been dealing with ‘a slight rodent problem’.
For the last few weeks I’ve been dealing with ‘a slight rodent problem’. It all started in autumn. The sudden and happy arrival of the goldfinches in my garden was followed by the equally sudden but unhappy arrival of a rat.
My suspicions had been raised when tunnels appeared in the borders and holes in the compost bin became a little too wide and numerous to be the work of a wood mouse. Then, my fears were confirmed when I emptied my compost bin and the rat shot out.
I’m not against rats and think they should be tolerated where possible, but there are three factors that make them undesirable residents of garden compost bins:
• they breed like the clappers and gather in large social groups
• they’re extremely clever and expert at tunnelling, so can easily access buildings
• they carry Weil’s disease, which is potentially fatal to humans
I paid close attention to my garden and realised I had to act when I spotted Ratty mopping up split niger seed from the bird feeders in broad daylight. It was evidently quite at home.
I love goldfinches, but they’re such messy eaters. On top of that, niger seed is incredibly free flowing. For every one seed in the goldfinch, at least three ended up in the rat (or so it seemed). I reluctantly took the feeders down.
I bought a humane trap, with the romantic vision of catching our rat and releasing it in a field, where it could roam free with owls and badgers. But, being extremely clever, the rat worked out how to take the food from the trap without setting it off. And then a mouse moved in. I had a mouse living in my rat trap.
It’s often noted that rats don’t like wet compost heaps, nor do they like loud noises. It’s therefore easy to evict them because you simply keep your compost moist and bang the bin loudly. I put the theory to test by removing the bin lid, emptying a bucket of cold water on to the heap every day and hitting the bin with a rake whenever I went past. The rat was indeed evicted, but it always returned within a few days. There’s a limit to how many times you can take a rake to your compost bin without arousing the suspicion of your neighbours.
With other methods exhausted, I took drastic action. I emptied the compost bin and chased the rat out of the garden. There was no poison involved, or bloodshed, just a little running and a threatening gesture with a spade. My garden is now rat free, but I can’t compost, the birds are gone and there’s a mouse living in the rat trap.
I’ve fixed trays to the base of my feeders to catch any discarded seed, and I’m hoping the goldfinches will return soon (they’re probably in Spain at the moment anyway). I’ve also bought some sturdy chicken wire, which I’ll attach to the base of my compost bin to prevent access. But there’s little I can do about the location of the garden. Backing onto a busy cycle path that runs between a pub and a bus stop, it’s routinely littered with pizza crusts and chicken bones. It’s easy to blame the goldfinches, but the problem lies with us.
Many thanks to Amy Lewis, Wildlife Trusts, for kind permission to use her image.
04/01/2013 at 16:55
Hi Kate when I cut the borders in the mainly glass area of our back garden I stacked the turf face to face back to back against the fence with my compost bins in front.The local Rat found a great place to live with food on the door step,every time I opened the bin the rat looked up and then disappeared down in the compost,After poking around the edge of the bin I found the hole just where the food was still edible so I cut up a tin opened it to fit round the bin ,no more rat when the turf had broken down I used it on the borders.
04/01/2013 at 16:57
I understand you all too well. I used to love feeding the birds, watching them go about their busy lives.
I first noticed the rat (probably more likely rats) during an unusual snowy winter; I was feeding more than usual and noticed the paw prints in the snow. I was willing to accept it (them) for the winter but when it started appearing everyday during the daytime I decided enough was enough, stopped feeding the birds and called in the council.
Fast forward a couple of years and I decided to try feeding the birds with just meal worms thinking the rats wouldn't be attracted to them but they came back again quite quickly so they obviously hadn't gone far.
I have now stopped feeding altogether and am in the process of planting more bird friendly plants and leaving water out for them to drink and bathe in.
Last summer I had less birds in the garden than when I was feeding but quite a number did come for the water and to feed off aphids and seed heads and hopefully will keep coming for the extra berries and seed pods which I am hoping will come from my new planting.
I am sure the rats are still around the area somewhere which is fine; just as long as they don't appear in my garden again.
05/01/2013 at 09:52
I am sure you always wear gloves in the garden, Kate, but they are more important when you have rats. I do not feed the birds till all "natural" food is gone from my garden. They have had the holly, pyracantha , cotoneaster and grapes but there ae still loads of rose hips so I have not put any costly bird seed out yet. If the rats get under the floor boards you need to tell the counciland have the pest controller out.
05/01/2013 at 23:22
Well done, Kate, on your eviction tactics! I am weedy when it comes to killing things and hope we never get anything really awful at the allotment. I know this thread is about rats but if anyone has any advice about avoiding mole murder, I'd be glad of it.
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07/01/2013 at 11:19
Thanks for all your comments. Happymarion of course I wear gloves I am very safety-conscious!
Many Sutter - can't you learn to love your mole? ;)