by Neasa MacErlean
The outlook is not quite so good anymore for rats living in Thanington. Over the last year they have been having a great time. Hundreds of them nested in family homes, settling down in unusual but serviceable homesteads such as washing machines and ovens. They got fat on the feasts they found in rubbish put out in plastic bags. They had the run of much of the estate, even making vertical pathways up into attics.
Why they had arrived is not totally clear. One theory is that the rats were encouraged to move home from next door Cockering Farm when building began for the new Thanington Park housing development. This is a common cause, according to pest controllers Rentokil. They write in a blog: “When a major construction project occurs, particularly on greenfield sites it can frequently disturb rats that may already be present in that location or who habitually move through existing watercourses in that area.”
Another possibility is that there was too much rubbish on the streets. When I contacted Canterbury City Council a year ago on behalf of a family in Thanington, I was told that they would be offered advice on recycling (but nothing more). This would reduce the amount of waste they put into bags, thereby cutting the temptations for the rodents.
The family I was speaking to were not able to fit all their rubbish into the bins provided by the council. Rats were feeding around the bins, and mother and father were worried that their children could be bitten or that the youngest might end up ingesting some of the poison they put down. Living with rats is really unpleasant, as well as being a danger to health. Just seeing one on the street is discomforting, let alone hearing them running through your corridors or your loft.
What made it so easy for the rats to stay on and multiply in Thanington was that the council no longer runs a vermin service. The situation now is that if rats come to live in our land or homes, we all have to sort the problem out alone. This is an inefficient way of handling this nasty problem: rats don’t respect borders. They travel along rat runs — such as sewers and other underground networks. So, to solve a rat problem, communities are better off acting together rather than leaving it to individual householders.
The residents of Thanington sought help for months from the council. In the end Pentland Homes, builders of the new housing development, offered to fund a scheme to see off the creatures. There have been delays. The problems at East Kent Housing slowed up proceedings, since the company had to block up the holes, old sewers and other rat entry points before Pentland Homes would send the money.
When, this month, I went to see the family again they told me that they had, surprisingly, managed to drive the rats off their premises. They had built concrete bases for their fences, sinking them over eight inches and putting ground glass into the cement. And they had given a similar treatment to other entry points to their house, especially around the drains. Rats, they told me, are intelligent creatures who learn to avoid negative experiences. Since they do not like bleeding as a result of being cut by glass, they will keep away from areas where they have had this experience.
I asked a vermin expert what he thought. “I’ve never heard anything like that,” he said, surprised. He thinks, however, that it could be a “possible” solution.
The rat story in Thanington is not one that shows Canterbury in a good light. Government cutbacks have been taking place in many areas but this is one where we must collaborate. What message does it send to our residents if we ignore a vermin problem of this scale in their homes? And do we think we will be immune in other areas? A friend told me recently that she saw two large rats, the best part of a foot long, on St Margaret’s Street. That is right in the centre of the city. At the very least, we should be learning from Thanington and seeing it as a warning sign.