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   Inside Out - North West: Monday 30th September, 2002

RATS

Rat close-up

"Rats, rats, rats! Hundreds, thousands, millions of them." This is a line from Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel. But reality is getting closer to the fiction in the North West as there’s been a dramatic increase in the rat population recently.

Rodent reasons

The North West’s rat population has increased by twice the national average in the past year.

A rat in a rubbish bin
Rats spend less time in the sewers and more in our rubbish

Experts estimate that there are now 60 million rats in the UK.

That’s one for every person.

There are many possible reasons for this increase:

  • Mild winters
  • Cutbacks in pest control expenditure
  • Increase in takeaway food shops and food litter

But the biggest reasons is our rubbish - the increase in it and often careless disposal of it.

Whether it’s throwing our chip paper on the floor or leaving bags of rubbish outside - disease-carrying rodents thrive on it.

Victorian regression

Professor John Ashton is the North West’s Director of Public Health.

Litter
Where there's crowds, there's litter - and hungry rats

He says, "The Victorians worked very hard to put in place street cleaning and inspection systems."

"We’ve let it go to the dogs over the past 30 years."

"Rats are a very serious risk to public health and we’ve got to keep on top of rats."

Disease danger

This black death is believed to have killed almost one third of the population in 1348.

Rats are commonly blamed for carrying it.

The black death forced the Victorians to think drastically about street cleanliness.

Although we are not currently at risk from a repeat of the black death, rats do carry risks of other diseases. These include:

  • Weil’s disease
  • Salmonella
  • Tuberculosis
  • Cryptosporidiosis
  • E.Coli
  • Foot and mouth disease

Tough action

Getting back to basic hygiene on the streets and careful disposal of rubbish is one way we can stop the problem getting worse.

The Keep Britain Tidy Group currently have a campaign to encourage this.

Professor Ashton said, "The shops should be taking more responsibility clearing up after themselves."

"There’s no enforcement at present… I would personally like to see fines imposed."

Conflict

Street wardens  Mandy Farinacci and Tony Consadine
Street wardens keep watch for discarded rubbish which could attract rats

Some super-clean food shops blame the public for the rat problem.

The householders blame the council for not providing wheelie bins.

There’s an obvious problem in the North West and elsewhere across the country.

Someone’s to blame - but maybe we all are.

Public health concern

Inside Out’s Tony Morris talks to the North West’s Director of Public Health, Professor John Ashton

Just how worried are you?
I think it’s really worrying. The Victorians worked very hard to put in place street cleaning and all kinds of inspection systems, we’ve let it go to the dogs over the past 30 years. Rats are a very serious risk to public health and we’ve got to keep on top of rats.
What sort of diseases do they carry?
There are whole lot of them, virus things, parasitic things - we know about the plague, we know what that did to the population in the middle ages. And it’s a biological weapon that can be used if certain groups wanted to do that. Rats are a vector for plague. They also carry all sorts of other things. Anglers also sometimes get infected by leptospirosis caused by rats’ urine found on the river bank. It’s a very rare disease at the moment. Research shows in recent years they can carry some awful things.
Like what?
Parasites, viruses, like the plague - they carry all sorts of toxins. Research shows they carry all sorts of this. They’re out there on a Friday and Saturday night when the streets are deserted and the kids have gone home and there’s all this stuff on the streets. The rats come out and have a banquet.
Mentioning the plague will worry a lot of people. We’re not at that stage are we?
No we’re not at that stage, but the point is the Victorians laboured hard to prevent these diseases. We are just taking our chances now.We’re allowing the rat population to come back. In recent years we’ve seen a lot of diseases brought in by animals and crossing across to humans. We know that rats can do that. We are stupid if we don’t get back to basics with hygiene on the streets.
How do we do that?
I personally would like to see fines that are imposed. When was the last time in Manchester and Rochdale [that people] were fined for throwing chip papers on the pavement? There’s no enforcement at the present time. The shops should be taking more responsibility, clearing up the streets after themselves and the pavements. They should be providing receptacles and using a lot less of disposable containers as well.
See also ...

On the rest of the web
Environmental campaigns
British Pest Control Association
Environment agency
Tidy Britain Group

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