Turning the door key I heard something  – but it was daylight so I felt safe – but when I got in I heard a scuffling sound – strange  – feeling bravel I tiptoed to the kitchen – the box of muesli was moving side to side! So I did the sensible thing – I ran outside screaming! My neighbour said it was a mouse. What?! Oh no! What to do? ‘Catch it’. I went back with a bag and flung it over the box, running back downstairs. The neighbour checked – empty!

He then said it was  probably a rat … I shuddered … ! He had heard a scratching noise in his kitchen. A few days later he heard something in the middle of the night, but again – nothing. Eventually when some food got eaten he realised a rat had broken in. So he got some sealer and cement, went round his whole flat and blocked it out. Why didn’t he tell anyone? He didn’t know why … he’s actually a nice man, renting the flat, and didn’t know we had a service agent who is supposed to deal with all this. This is part of the problem – I live in a privately owned purpose block of flats but these days most of them have been rented out to other  people who don’t realise we pay a service charge for this sort of thing. So I called them – shut of course til Monday. I promptly made arrangements to stay at a friends (being a coward).

On Monday the service agent said no one else had reported it but they would send a  company – from the other side of London! They refused to pay for the council to come out so I paid for them myself. They were much more helpful with advice on what to do, but wouldn’t do it themselves. I had to buy silver wool and stuff all holes in the walls and under the sink, plus cement spray round the pipes as the holes for pipes are often much too big. I also had to bleach/throw away everything from the kitchen as rats urinate constantly and carry viruses. It didn’t solve the fact that somehow the rats had burrowed into the building and climbed up the infrastructure. The council chap explained rats are highly intelligent and figure out whole map routes of pipes etc. They don’t want to live in our houses (but maybe roofs) but like to be near us for food. Especially sugar! They nest nearby in bushes, sheds and near bins (I have these galore). Also of course in sewers and farms, anywhere near humans.

The service agent and the pest company were useless – telling me they had been putting rat poison down for years –  what use is that? The council chap showed me round and pointed out where their nests were and how they got in. Turns out our building is surrounded by very pretty pebbles and underneath those is…earth! So the rats just burrowed down and climbed up. As neighbours killed or blocked them off so they climbed higher until they reached my flat! Great! And they will spend hours every night trying to gnaw their way in. I ended up having a dispute with the service agent and for awhile refused to pay my service charge on advice. In desperation I emailed lots of local councillors and my MP. A couple of councillors responded but kept  ‘turning up’ and leaving cards – at least they tried!

My Labour MP  emailed and wrote to me straightaway saying how concerned he was –  he would report my service agent for being so neglectful. Wonderful, I thought – but guess what … I never heard another word! Then a few months later when the Windrush scandal broke he got in contact again to reassure me he was doing everything he could for them. What about my rats? Not really a cause celebre like Windrush I guess – but residents with rats are people too, Barry!   

The rat ‘problem’ in London can only get worse as more and people move in and the rats (as well as other creatures) get squeezed from their natural habitat of greenery by our constant building on what used to be their homes. They are clever and have learnt we are a good source of food. In reality we are moving in on them not the other way round.      

Rat populations are booming and there are nearly 11 million in the UK – with over 100 complaints per day. They are also getting bigger and more resistant to rat poisons.  Unsurprisingly their number in London has recently increased by 10%. Our constant building, overcrowding, taking over rural areas, piling up of rubbish, bins not being emptied,  wasting and throwing away food especially takeaways, not sealing foundations of houses properly and so on will only send us back to the bad old days of being infested with rats, and we have only ourselves to blame.

They are more afraid of us than we are of them and only want to survive. The soundest counsel I received was from the council chap – we all have to live side by side, he said: rats and other creatures have a right to be here too and are necessary for the ecosystem, ie cockroaches (eek!) are perfect recyclers chomping through all kinds of rubbish, and they are vital to the planet. It’s a shame that our first solution is extermination, not just sensible building.    

And me?  I learnt a lot, did the practical stuff myself and feel like an expert as I helped the whole block to become rat free. The service agent did eventually do some cementing and clearing too … and I paid my bill.         

But apart from all this, rats too belong on this planet that I love. We must find a way for us all to survive. Human greed and waste is the problem. Other creatures only take what they need.

Rats are not the enemy… we are.


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