War!

My neighbour and I are waging war. Not on each other I am glad to say, but on a most unwelcome invader of our peaceful and private outdoor spaces. Our gardens have become a favoured hunting ground for rats.

Their presence is not a surprise, but their current proximity to our houses needs to be discouraged. I live next to a wood, maintain numerous compost bins at the bottom of the garden, feed wild birds from a well stocked table and have several areas of decking which I have been told offer attractive nesting places for such beasts who may safely hide in the debris that gathers underneath. All of these features though are in the part of the garden furthest from the house. I can live side by side with nature but prefer to keep a respectful distance. I have no wish for the rodents to become so prolific that there is a risk of them entering my home.

I first spotted our current infestation a few days ago. On previous occasions, visits have only been noticeable at dusk. This recent sighting was in broad daylight and the protagonist allowed me to get within a few yards before scurrying away. This lack of fear suggested a youngster; parents and siblings were likely nearby. Today, as I was watching my chickens scratch and peck in the garden, I spotted three of the rodents in the chicken run. This was unacceptable. My expensive chicken pellets will not become easy pickings for disease carrying creatures that I have no wish to welcome.

Despite it being their free range time, I rounded up my little flock and confined them to their run. The hens were not impressed with this turn of events, but the rats will not dare try to steal food from under the beaks of these descendants of the dinosaurs. With the chickens safely enclosed I set up traps in the rat runs that I had observed and hope for a quick kill. I am generally a peace loving person but these interlopers must be vanquished before they become a serious problem.

Both my neighbour and I have placed baited boxes in an attempt to poison the unwelcome visitors. In the long run this is the most effective way of dealing with an infestation, but it does take time. As I have observed so many apparently fearless creatures it is likely that there are many more around. It is likely that a few established pairs have bred and that the increased numbers are now seeking out new territory. They must be culled or those numbers, and the issues that go with them, will only increase.

Nature will normally maintain the hunters and the hunted at supportable levels but man’s intervention has upset the balance. Numbers of rats, squirrels and foxes have been artificially increased due to the extra food that has been made available around housing. Thus I will accept a few mice living in the log pile at the bottom of the garden where they may be picked off by the circling buzzards, but not a family of rats in my chicken coops by the house. I have heard ghastly tales of rats eating live chicken’s legs as they roost.

The cold spring has delayed the natural breeding season meaning that numbers have increased at a time when the daylight hours are long. This is an issue as it makes it more difficult to remove my chicken’s food overnight, something that would not normally be necessary. I do not wish to leave my warm bed at 4.30am in order to put out the breakfast that the hens will expect when they leave their roost just before dawn. Until this current rat issue is successfully resolved though, my feathered friends will have to go hungry until their sleepy protector has had her rest.

I wonder what it is about rats that makes them so unpleasant to so many people. Is it the speed at which they scurry around, the pointy nose and tail or the stories we are brought up with in which the rat is to be feared and driven out? There are many who will find the fearsome fox (an insatiable chicken killer) or the grey squirrel (rats with bushy tails) cute, but few will wish to save the life of a wild rat. Personally, I have little love to offer any of these creatures.

I do not wish any wild animal to become too prolific around my home. I fully support maintaining unmanaged areas with linking corridors to allow our native wildlife to breed and thrive in natural surroundings. I do not, however, wish to encourage unnatural proliferation, and I do not wish to share my home with any wild animals. This is my little patch of garden and I wish to be able to enjoy it safely with my children and my chickens. The rats must go.

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