Students need to prepare for potential rat infestations in Leeds this winter

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The “perfect storm” of a Covid-19 lockdown coupled with freezing temperatures could lead to a rise of rat infestations in Leeds this winter, pest control experts have warned.

The warning comes as it is believed that rats have already bred out of control over the summer, with one pest control company reporting an increase of sightings by 140% over previous years.

Jenny Rathbone, from Pest.co.uk, said: “We are facing a challenging winter with potentially ‘perfect storm’ conditions as the bad news of more lockdowns seems inevitable, rats are breeding like crazy in quiet streets and closed commercial properties and the fear is they will come into homes looking for food when the cold hits” 

With poor trading conditions as well as tighter Covid-19 restrictions forcing Leeds businesses to close, Rathbone says rats “who would have made home close to businesses with careless food waste practises” are now looking further afield. 

The issue has been exacerbated by an unusually dry summer and autumn cold snap causing the ground to harden, making it difficult for rats to burrow. Rathbone says as a result rats are seeking easier shelter, including in outbuildings, attics and quiet areas between walls and floors.

Leeds City Council figures show that between 2017 to 2019 there were 86 rat call-outs to the council’s pest control service in the student areas of Woodhouse, Hyde Park and Headingley. 

Lydia Violeta, a student vlogger at the University of Leeds, revealed to her 217,000 YouTube subscribers that her Leeds student house had been infested by rodents. In a video uploaded on 10th October, Violeta said that her housemate had found droppings in their kitchen cupboards as well as holes in a loaf of bread. 

The issue has become so widespread in Leeds that one letting agent believes a ‘rat levy’ should be introduced to tackle the issue. Luke Gidney, managing director of LetLeeds, told Yorkshire Evening Post that there is a serious rat issue in Hyde Park. “We often see rats brazenly walking around the street in Hyde Park and surrounding areas.” He said he has contacted other local property agents to “create some joined-up thinking” and that they are liaising with Leeds City Council.

How to keep rats out of homes

Rathbone says “we typically see a 50% increase in reports of rat problems in Leeds going into the winter months, but we are staffing up this year for even more, and from what we see it’s going to be a busy few months”. She advises people living in the city to take proactive measures before the winter to prevent an infestation. These measures include:

  • Blocking up holes – Fill any gaps in brickwork, shed doors and any holes on external walls of properties including cellars and garages
  • Clearing cupboards – Empty unused cupboards of bags, clothes, rags and keep them clean
  • Securing all food sources – Make sure food is not left out, tidy away any open food sources and keep worktops and floors clean of crumbs
  • Preparing traps – by leaving out rat traps you can pre-empt any future infestation, however it is better to bait with official rat poison than leaving food scraps out

The students’ union help website advises students with a rat infestation in their home to immediately contact their landlord.

“They should arrange for someone to come round (this should happen within 24 to 48 hours) or ask you to contact Leeds City Council Pest Control.” The landlord is required to cover the cost for removal unless the rats were attracted to the property because of “overflowing bins, food scraps or fleas from pets”.

Photo credit: Oxana Kuznetsova (Unsplash)