FAMILIES have fended off rodents with traps and poison for centuries.
But now they have become so concerned by a new plague of “super rats”, which are resistant to traditional methods of killing them, that a council is calling on the Health and Safety Executive for permission to use stronger poisons.
The brown rats, which carry life-threatening diseases, have inundated areas of Berkshire, Hampshire and Oxford, including Henley-on- Thames, which hosts the annual Royal Regatta.
The infestations have become so severe that West Berkshire Council has contacted the regulator asking for a change in the rules governing how rodenticide is used.
Rat catchers are concerned that recent flooding has driven the pests out of sewers and into homes, where they can breed more readily.
The council’s call follows a spate of attacks by rats, whose population has recently been estimated at 80 million.
A couple found their 16-month-old daughter screaming in bed and covered in blood after being bitten by a rat at their home in Camden, north London, last month.
Separately, an 80-year-old woman died in hospital in Reading last year just a few weeks after she was apparently bitten by rats while she was bedbound following a stroke.
Rats carry diseases such as Weil’s disease, which can be passed on to humans. It has flu-like symptoms initially but can lead to jaundice in the kidneys.
Now rat catchers want to be allowed to use brodifacoum, a strong poison that bleeds the rodents to death, outside as well as indoors to bring the population under control.
The poison, which has been used in the US and Europe for more than a decade, acts more quickly than those traditionally used in Britain and rats have yet to develop resistance.
Graham Chappell, from Rapid Pest Control in Newbury, contractors for West Berkshire Council, said: “It’s becoming more of an issue now simply because of the number of rats that are being seen.
“They’ve also mutated genetically and are bred to be immune to standard poisons.
“We have had to start using different methods such as trapping and gassing, which can be less effective and more costly.”
Instead, he wants to use the stronger poison outside, trapping rats in bait boxes and killing them within four days.
“The Health and Safety Executive need to rethink this and allow people who are trained in techniques to use it outside,” he said. “We need to have some flexibility to solve the problems that we’re facing.”
Alan Buckle, a researcher from the University of Reading, has supported the call for stronger poisons.
He said: “Studies show a large part of southern Elgnad has rats who have mutated to resist standard poisons.
“Pest controllers are having problems and more potent poisons need to be used carefully and responsibly.”
Dr Buckle recently tested the tails of hundreds of rats killed in Berkshire and Oxfordshire and found they were resistant to common poisons.
A spokesman for the council said: “The problem is national, not confined to West Berkshire."
A spokesman for the Health and Safety Executive said pest controllers in West Berkshire had previously applied to use stronger poisons outside but withdrew their application when they were told to monitor wildlife for signs it would be poisoned too.
Tom Rowley Telegraph.co.uk