With temperatures expected to plummet as low as -15C in parts of the UK over the coming days, we won’t be the only ones wanting to keep warm and dry, rats and mice will also be searching for shelter. As the cold snap takes hold, bringing ice, frost and Arctic winds to the country, rodents will be looking to sneak indoors.
The sub-zero temperatures come after the warmest December on record, which was also one of the wettest ever with a succession of storms and floods. Rodents recently displaced from flooded burrows and sewer systems will be searching more urgently for new places to shelter as temperatures drop. They are not fussy about where they stay as long as it offers protection from the elements and a food source nearby.
According to government figures there are approximately 610,100 empty homes in England, of these about 205,800 have been unoccupied for more than six months.
Some city authorities are blaming a phenomenon known as ‘buy-to-leave’, where rich investors purchase new properties as an investment rather than a home. Property experts say it’s a calculated move as the costs of letting, wear & tear, administration etc. can sometimes outweigh rental income. The ‘buy-to-leave’ issue accounts for a smaller percentage of empty properties than those with more ordinary financial concerns say the Charity Empty Homes. Often owners cannot raise the money to fix their property up, so they can rent or sell it, particularly if it’s inherited or jointly inherited and is already in a poor condition.
A study of government statistics by Empty Homes also found there are more unused residential properties in the north of England than the south, with seaside towns experiencing more problems with empty properties than other areas.
Mice and rats are quite happy to become squatters in these vacant properties. They can search undisturbed for vulnerable entry points such as damaged pipework, drains or gaps in brickwork or under the eaves. Once inside they will look for undisturbed locations to nest such as lofts, cupboards, crawlspaces, even the gaps in cavity walls. Local residents are unlikely to notice these nocturnal creatures straight away. They will probably not be spotted until they venture out for food.
The first signs of rats in a garden can be:
- Compost bins – compost heaps attract rats because they are warm and contain food. Check lid and base of composters for holes and gnaw marks.
- Rubbish bins – outdoor rubbish bags, if not placed in metal bins with securely fitted lids rodents will gnaw through them and feed from contents, leaving a mess.
- Bird tables – it’s not just squirrels that will eat bird food, rodents will eat any spilt food and visit sheds/garages where the food is stored to gnaw through packaging or containers to reach the food.
- Garages – check for gaps around door frames or holes gnawed at the bottom of wooden doors. If you have an integral garage check around the internal door as well, and any vents that could give entry into other internal areas.
The best prevention against rats and mice is to ‘rodent proof’ your property. Areas to check and proof include:
- Entrances – rodents can squeeze through small gaps in doorways, so fit bristle strips to the bottom of doors as a deterrent. Rats will use cat flaps to get in and will enlarge gaps by gnawing to enter homes via integral garages.
- Gaps in exterior walls – holes or small openings (around utility cables or pipe work) need to be filled with stainless steel wire wool and caulking or concrete. Steel or aluminium plating can also be used to help protect the bottom of doors. Rats and mice can jump so check up to a height of about four feet.