Rats are unwelcome visitors in our gardens – they are considered vermin and can spread potentially serious diseases, including Leptospirosis, which can lead to Weil’s disease. They can make their homes under decking, in sheds or greenhouses, and even in compost heaps.
Rats are mostly nocturnal so you may not see them, but there are other tell-tale signs. You may spot their tunnels (6-9cm in diameter) or their ‘runs’ – tracks alongside walls, fences or buildings that are up to 10cm wide. You might also notice their cylindrical droppings (around 15mm long and 5mm wide), gnawed wood (especially where food is stored), or parallel teeth marks in crops.
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Rats require food, water and shelter in order to survive. Remove at least one of these and they are less likely to stick around.
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Here are 10 steps you can take to prevent or deal with rats.
Stop feeding wild birds and animals
A plastic tube bird feeder full of bird seed, hanging from a tree
Many rats are attracted by fallen food from bird feeders and will climb up feeding stations – squirrel proof feeders may help. Stop feeding birds or hedgehogs if you suspect an infestation, and secure chicken runs. Store bird and animal food in secure containers.
Keep the garden tidy
Mowing long grass
Tidy gardens are less likely to attract rats as they provide less cover. Keep grass short, clear cluttered storage areas, remove rubbish and reduce overgrown areas, especially near fences or garden buildings.
Move things around
Planted terracotta pots and garden furniture arranged on a well-swept patio
Rats are ‘neo-phobic’, which means they have a fear of new things. They don’t like disruption to their territory, so place obstacles in their runs and move things around in the garden frequently.
Block access to decking
Wooden decking in a garden
The space beneath decking is perfect for rats – it’s sheltered, hard to reach and food scraps can fall between the planks. Sweep up any fallen food after alfresco meals. Block access if possible or consider installing a patio if the problem persists.
Block access to garden buildings
A wooden garden shed with an ivy screen along one side
Be sure to block any holes in the walls, floors and doors of your garden buildings securely. You could add a metal ‘kick plate’ to your shed door to prevent entry.
Protect your compost bin
Turning green and brown materials into a compost bin fitted with a secure lid
Make your bin or heap uninviting – don’t add food scraps and include green and brown materials so it’s moist. Put chicken wire underneath to prevent access. Turn it regularly but bear in mind that other wildlife uses compost heaps too. If rats have made a home in your bin, don’t use the compost on edible crops.
Keep an eye on crops
Storing apples wrapped in newspaper, in layers in trays
There’s not much you can do to keep rats off your crops. Rats will eat sweetcorn, pumpkins, squash, root vegetables and apples, so once harvested, store them somewhere secure. If you suspect that stored or growing crops have been nibbled by rats, don’t eat them. Rats also eat seeds, so store them securely.
Remove water sources
A well-maintained garden tap
Unlike mice, rats can’t survive without water. If possible, remove water sources from your garden, including dripping taps. Secure drains and add baffles to drainpipes.
Get a pet
A Jack Russell wearing a harness running on grass (photo credit Getty Images)
While it’s not advisable to get a pet purely for the purpose of catching rats, especially as rats can carry disease, pets can be a good deterrent. They are a disruptive force in the garden, making the rats less likely to stay.
A rat in a garden (photo credit Getty Images)
First, identify where the rats are living and feeding routes they take between them – in neighbouring gardens, too. Rats breed fast and are wary of new objects, so controlling them is difficult. Traps and poisons are sold at garden centres but must be used correctly – read the label. It is often better to contact your local council or professional pest controller.