Rats can be one of the worst pests to plague any garden in both urban and rural areas. Not only do they burrow into compost heaps, grassy banks or under sheds to make their homes, but they are also not afraid to feast on our lovingly grown crops.
More worryingly, rats often carry bacteria that can infect people. In particular, leptospirosis - also called Weil's disease - can be spread via the urine of infected rats through cuts and abrasions or by accidental ingestion. Although human infection is rare in the UK, it is still a worry to see a rat in your outside space.
With an estimated 150 million rats in the UK as of 2020, according to Pest.co.uk, it is not unusual for households to be left battling the unwelcome visitors. Here, we have created a guide on how to identify signs that rats are in your garden.
How to know if you have rats in your garden
Although they are mostly nocturnal, the most obvious sign that a rat has taken up residence is the sight of one scurrying across your garden. Adult rats have bodies that are around 21cm long and have relatively hairless tails that are 18cm.
Another sign you can look out for is spotting burrows in the soil: rat tunnels have a diameter of between 30-40cm. Active burrows will likely have smooth walls with hard-packed dirt around the edges, due to the frequent use.
Pellets are also a big hint as to what could be lurking. Rat faeces are cylindrical with rounded ends, and about 15mm long and 5mm wide when fresh, according to the RHS.
If rats have been feasting on your crops, you may notice parallel grooves made by their incisor teeth. The unwelcome rodents will happily gnaw through everything from sweet corn cobs, pumpkins and squash to seeds and harvested fruits such as apples.
Steps to take to get rid of rats in the garden
First, it is important to remove any easily accessible food sources. This means that not only should you keep a lid on your outside bins, but should also make sure not to leave out excessive food if you frequently feed birds and other wildlife.
You should also be more discerning when it comes to piling up your compost heap. It is best to avoid adding meat, fish, dairy and egg-based kitchen waste - these should instead be disposed of in a food waste bin for collection along with your normal household rubbish.
It might help to simply have a quick garden tidy up. By removing clutter and unnecessary items, it will reduce the number of potential nesting places.
As part of this, be sure to temporarily remove all water sources, such as bird baths. Unlike mice, rats cannot survive without drinking water frequently so this should be a great deterrent.
If you think the rat population in your area is really getting out of control, you can consider hiring pest control services. Many local councils will offer a rat control service, or will at least be able to recommend one.
This article is kept updated with the latest information.