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The soothing sound of running water can help create a truly relaxing atmosphere in your garden. As well as being a focal point or centrepiece, water features can attract an array of wildlife as they act as a source of food and water. But could this be a problem? Could they attract the “wrong sort” of wildlife, such as rats?
Any source of water in your garden, including water features, can attract rats. This is especially true when combined with the presence of shelter and a reliable source of food. If you already have, or are planning to install, a water feature, there are various measures that you can take to minimize the chance of any rodent activity.
How do I Identify a Rat?
There are two main types of rat in the UK: the most common is the Brown Rat (Rattus Norvegicus or Common Rat) along with the less prevalent Black Rat (Rattus Rattus or Ship Rat). Both species have some specific features in common: they have a large head, rounded ears and a long, thick, hairless tail. Their fur is typically a dark colour and they have short legs with large feet. They have four incisor teeth that are continually growing throughout their lifetime.
What do Rats Need to Survive?
Rats need three main things to survive: a source of water, a supply of food (pretty much ANY food will do) and shelter. Provide all of these and you have created the perfect conditions that rats need to set up home.
Where do Rats Live?
Rats thrive in human environments where there is a plentiful supply of food, water and shelter. Rats are abundant in urban areas but in recent years have been pushed out further to the edges of towns and to more rural areas as they search for food.
In gardens, they will live in compost heaps, sheds and beneath decking.
If they gain access to your house they will live under floorboards, in walls or in roof spaces.
They also inhabit sewerage systems up and down the country.
What Are The Tell Tale Signs of Rat Activity?
Rats are nocturnal so you wont usually see them in the day. That said, there has been an increase in daytime rat sightings especially during covid lockdown periods that have been partly attributed to food becoming more scarce.
The tell tale signs of rat activity to look out for are:
- Gnawing – because a rat’s incisor teeth are constantly growing they have a consistent need to gnaw things to keep the growth down and the teeth in shape. Many people underestimate their gnawing abilities. They will commonly gnaw wood. If they get into your home they will gnaw cables and pipes. But their teeth are so strong they can even gnaw through concrete!
- Greasy marks on commonly used runs – rats don’t like change and will usually have set trails that they use. They have an oily fur which leaves a greasy deposit on the ground along their established routes. As rats seek shelter to hide from predators these routes are typically sited next to existing walls and fences.
- Parallel teeth marks on fallen fruit can indicate a rat has been tucking in!
- Droppings – these are pellet shaped and dark in colour. Rat droppings are usually concentrated in a single area.
A great way of keeping an eye on activity in your garden is to use a wildlife camera – check them out on Amazon below!
Why Are Rats Such Bad News?
Rats spread disease. Rats constantly mark their territory by urinating. Disease is spread when people come into contact with either the rat directly, its droppings, urine or contaminated nesting material . Some of the most common diseases spread by rats in the UK are Leptospirosis (Weil’s disease), Listeria and Salmonella.
As well as spreading disease, rats also cause damage to property. Rats can gnaw through pretty much anything, including plastic, pipes, wood, brick and even concrete. If they manage to gain access to your home they can gnaw through electrical cables which is especially dangerous as it creates a fire hazard.
How Can I Protect my Garden and Home From Rats?
Prevention is better than cure! You can take steps now to prevent a rat problem before it occurs:
Step 1: Remove Unnecessary Water Sources
- Remove unnecessary sources standing water. Look out for any containers or pots that fill up with water during periods of rainfall.
- Fix dripping taps and leaking pipes.
- Secure and cover drains to prevent access.
Step 2: Remove Food Sources
- Protect the edges and base of your compost heap with either a chicken wire or mesh surround, or use a solid sided compost bin to help deter rats. Try not to put food waste to compost and keep the compost moist by soaking it with a hose frequently – rats don’t like this!
- Regularly clear any fallen fruit.
- Make sure that all bins are secured and tightly closed.
- If feeding birds, use methods which do not attract rats. For example, you can install rodent proof feeders. Ensure that bird feed, or any animal feed, is securely stored. Any bird feed that finds its way onto the ground should be regularly cleared (a lot easier to do if your feeders are above a hard surface).
Step 3: Remove Sources of Shelter
- Keep your garden tidy – untidy and cluttered gardens can easily provide shelter and nesting sites for rats amongst general debris and overgrowth. Keeping the grass cut short, cutting back overgrown areas and clearing any wood / debris will mean that rats will find it difficult to find the shelter they need.
- It is also a good idea to block access to buildings, outbuildings and decking were possible. Rats only need a gap of around 15mm to successfully gain access!
Step 4: Keep Changing Things Around
- Rats are neophobic and do not like change. Altering your garden layout frequently will deter them. This can be as simple as regularly moving around garden items like plant pots and furniture.
Step 5: Encourage Predators
- Cats are a natural predator of rats. The mere presence and scent of cats in a garden will help deter rats. And if you live in an area with foxes then all the better: allowing a route of access to your garden for foxes will act as a further deterrent.
So, Should I Get Rid of my Water Feature to Deter Rats?
Although a source of water can be an attraction for rats, you should not let this put you off installing or retaining your water feature.
The likelihood of a rat presence will increase if your water feature exists in combination with other risk factors such as further sources of water, a food supply and abundant shelter.
We have seen that by carefully managing all of these risk factors you can greatly reduce the chance of a rat presence in your garden, meaning that you can enjoy your water feature with an added peace of mind for years to come!
And to discover more about how to keep your water feature in top condition, take a look at our post “Why is my water feature turning green?“.
If you are thinking of installing a water feature, why not check out some of the ones below which are currently available on Amazon?
But What if I Have Identified a Rat Presence? How do I Get Rid of Them?
If you have identified rat movements in your garden, and despite taking steps 1 – 5 described above they are still present, the option of last resort is to control them. This can be done by using traps, bait boxes or ultrasound deterrent devices. It is worth bearing in mind that a rat problem is often not confined to one specific garden so it is worth working in conjunction with your close neighbours to successfully eradicate them.
Option 1: Ultrasound Devices
Ultrasound devices are either plug in or battery powered and transmit a high pitched sound to drive away rats that is not audible to humans. The theory sounds good but the evidence on their effectiveness is at best mixed. By all means try this option but be aware that results are not guaranteed.
Option 2: Traps and Bait Boxes
Traps and bait boxes can be placed along rat runs once you have identified where these are. You can buy traps and bait boxes from DIY stores and garden centres. Remember to always read the label and follow the instructions!
Option 3: Employ a Local Pest Control Specialist
We would always recommend employing a local pest control specialist to resolve your rat problem rather than going with option 2 of setting traps or siting bait boxes yourself. The professionals will have significant experience of dealing with rat problems. As well as being safer, using their services will likely achieve a faster and better result.