There is a rat for every person in the British Isles. Our way of life has invited them inby Vanora Bennett / October 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
It took Tina Clark a while to believe she had rats. When she first found packets of biscuits torn open in the kitchen cupboard, she assumed her ten-year-old daughter, Amie, had been snacking. But the container of cat food under the sink was also ripped open. She got a lid for it, but it was attacked again; there were teethmarks on the lid.
She threw away the food in the cupboards, and found two big holes in the chipboard at the back. There was another hole a foot wide, falling away into darkness, behind a panel in the corridor outside. All the holes had black greasy marks on their edges. Her cats spent hours by the panel in the corridor, waiting.
Then the sounds began. They were tentative noises which might have been many other things. You could choose to think they were floorboards creaking, heaters clicking off, or twigs tapping at a window. But Tina had encountered rats before, and she was brave enough to recognise the scuttering of claws.
The rat population of Britain is growing very fast. The number of brown rats-Rattus norvegicus, which came to this country in the 18th century aboard timber ships from Scandinavia-has grown 53 per cent in five years. There are over 60m of them-at least one for every person in the British Isles. Rattus rattus, the plague-carrying black rat that died out centuries ago in this country, is back too. It is found in ports, sneaking ashore with cargoes from newly capitalist eastern Europe.
The brown rat prefers to live underground, feeding at dawn and dusk and shunning danger. But there are now so many of them that they come out in daylight.
Rats can climb walls with their long claws. They can push their heads constructed of overlapping plates into cracks in your skirting board no wider than a pen, and wriggle their bodies along behind like a sausage. And they can swim up into houses from the sewers, through the S-bend in lavatories.
Rats feed on waste, so they flock to places in decay (though they are no respecters of human status: a few years ago a rat stopped parliament when it was seen crossing the floor of the chamber of the Commons, and in 2001 they infested the kitchens of Buckingham Palace). And they are known collectively as a mischief for good reason. Rats’ teeth never stop…