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24 September 2014

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The Pied Piper of Sparkbrook

In the last ten years, pest controller Andy Smith has developed a rat's eye view of Birmingham...

He knows their hiding places, breeding habits and what they've been eating. From the bird-table opportunists of Sutton Coldfield to the cellar dwellers of Sparkbrook it's his job to snuff them out.

Rats aren't his priority though as Andy explains:

"It's people. One of the key elements of the job is reassurance. People phone the council because they've got a problem and are genuinely pleased to see us."

Rats are scary creatures. For the unfortunate resident it seems the rat will stop at nothing to terrorise them. They chew through electrical cables, into bins and through fences.

Big as alley cats

A brown rat
Brown rat.

"They are semi-incontinent and leave their stench everywhere so you never forget their presence. It's a smell that stays with you all day."

Everyone Andy meets has a rat story to tell:

"I thought I saw the rat looking through the fence just now, but it was a dog."

"I wear a hairnet at night coz I'm scared of the rats."

"It was as big as that cat and it just stared at me, it wouldn't move."

"They'll be coming through the door soon, I can hear them."

Andy calmly puts their minds at ease whilst looking around for tell-tale signs like rat runs, harbourages, rat holes and droppings.

Rat droppings.
Rat droppings.

"They're the size of antibiotic pills. This one's been eating rice, notice it's light brown. You can see when they've eaten the poison, it's got the green dye in it."


He then gives some welcome advice on reducing food and habitat, and goes to get the poison.

"Sometimes we'll get Environmental Health out to clean things up, but more often than not the poison does the trick.

"Rats like eating under cover. They eat it all up, not like mice. It takes about eight to ten days to work. If they're still around after 14 days I come back and put some more down.

"We have to watch for small children and dogs, we don't want them eating it."

Don't have nightmares

Laying the posion
Laying the poison

"I rarely see any rats as they don't really come out in the day unless they're very brave, but they hear us from their dark hidey holes."

This is where he enters the mindset of the rat. He does the teeth and the paws and stares out into the dark with beady rat eyes. It's an uncanny impression.

"I don't have nightmares about them. I've been killing rats since I was little. We'd get a few terriers and flush them out. I'd break their legs with a whipping stick.

"In the war they killed rats by putting cement in porridge. We've had the same poison since the 70s, but in America they've started using zapper traps which fry them – you can buy these on EBay.

Rat in the city

"Birmingham only has brown rats. In Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle they have black rats too because they're ports. The brown rats are bigger and don't climb so well."

According to the National Pest Technicians Association Birmingham's rat population, like the rest of the UK, is on the rise. (2% for the West Midlands last year).

Rat holes in bins
Rats chew holes in the bin.

"But it's quiet at this time of year because of the long nights. Come Easter, when people go out into their gardens, that's when we get lots of calls. I definitely hold with the saying about never being more than ten feet away from a rat."

Worst encounter

"When I'd only been on the job for two weeks I went to a house with a crazy old biddy downstairs and an old man upstairs. She had seven dogs and they used to poo and piddle all over the floor.

"When things got too bad, they just put a new carpet down. Rats were everywhere and it stunk. The kitchen cabinets and sides were chewed to bits and the rats were in all the food.

"The old man upstairs didn't want me to get rid of them. In the First World War he was stationed on his own in the trenches at a radio relay station and the only mates he had were the rats.

Andy washes his hands.
Andy washes his hands.

"I eventually persuaded him and laid the poison. When I came back the following week the rats were literally falling out of the kitchen cupboards. That is the worst one I've ever done, it was unbelievable."

Pest controller

"Being a pest controller is a great job: it's varied, you're helping the community and meeting lots of people who are all pleased to see you and it's even nice being outside in the weather. There's no downside really."

And the rats?

"They're amazingly adaptable and intelligent creatures - you've got to respect them, but they carry some nasty diseases. One of the pest controllers used to keep rats. That’s not for me, I prefer dogs." And with that he goes off to wash his hands.

If you have a problem with rats call Birmingham's free pest control service on 0121 303 6007. If a rat's in your house they'll come out within 24 hours. 

last updated: 10/03/06
Have Your Say
Seen any rats lately?
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The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

rats rats rats were arnt they there is waste ground next to my local supermarket and u have to walk down an ally to get to the shop and there they are in full view sittin on the path way yak horrid things

There is a dead Rat In Balsall Heath, Moseley Road. It's been there for 3 weeks now.

zahra chohan
its a relief to know that we have someone in the city who can help us when we have pest problems. i think that this is a good opportunity to make birmingham a safer and healthier place to live in!

ive seen one in our office

Pat Newey
We frequently see a rat in our back garden during daylight, so he must be one of the braver types.I worry about putting poison down because of the birds.

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