Britain’s first rat-killing ban  introduced in Bradford-on-Avon

For centuries ‘rat catchers’ have tried to keep rodents from plaguing the cobble lined streets of Bradford-on-Avon. 

But now, for the first time, the killing of rats will be outlawed, leaving residents fearing their homes could be overrun. 

Council bosses have called for the ban amid fears poison could be eaten by protected species such as birds of prey. 

It comes after the historic Roman town declared a Climate Emergency last year, with Cllr Dom Newton putting forward the new measures at an Environment and Planning Committee last week. 

In a news release announcing the ban, the town council said it “will, as far as the law allows, deny access to those engaged in, and otherwise prohibit, culling or hunting and other types of animal destruction on lands that it controls or manages”.

It continued to add that “where necessary, this will include deployment of non-lethal methods of rodent control on Town Council lands”.

But opponents say there are “dangerous” consequences for its residents.

Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance said allowing such a measure to go ahead would put “people’s health at risk” from a number rodent borne diseases and “leave pest controllers with the ridiculous option of catching rats and releasing them to return to their food source”.

“It is astonishing that a local council would seek to prevent the legal control of rodents and pests when the overwhelming evidence makes clear that it is necessary to do so to protect public health, particularly in a town located next to a river.

“This was a dangerous decision and in the interest of public health, Bradford on Avon council should urgently reverse it immediately,” he urged.

Bradford on Avon Town Council operates as part of a two tier system under Wiltshire Council Unitary Authority (WCUA), who use bait boxes to dispose of rat infestations, which they say are “a common problem in rural and urban areas”.

Last year, WCUA carried out more than 1200 rat treatments.

Scott Mays, Company Director of Wiltshire Pest Services, said that Bradford-on-Avon is no exception to such infestations thanks to its “old drain networks”.

“Rats are pretty prevalent there because of the old network of drains, lots of them get out of the sewers and they can get into properties by those means as well – so it’s always a problem in Bradford on Avon,” he said.

To manage the problem, pest controllers use snap back traps or poison, called rodenticide, he said, although the industry is moving away from the latter.

“The only non-lethal type of control would be a live capture trap which would have to be checked every 24 hours,” said Mr Mays, explaining that this option is both labour intensive and costly.

“I don’t quite know how that would work – the town would be overrun with rats,” he added.

But a Bradford-on-Avon Town Council spokesperson said it has had “very few instances of rodent issues, due to our quickly identifying and addressing waste management problems as they occur”.

In a statement, they added: “While rodents, in significant quantities and in urban settings can of course present health and safety issues, we aim to prevent problems from occurring in the first instance, with regular monitoring and efficient waste management. 

“This way we can avoid methods which could cause unnecessary suffering and distress, or the deployment of harmful chemicals.

"As a town nestled within beautiful countryside, we are fortunate in being able to allow space for all manner of creatures to thrive; something which seems critical in the light of the devastating 2019 State of Nature Report. We aspire to manage the land we manage in partnership with the local ecosystem, not at the expense of it, In line with the Town Council’s declaration of an Ecological Emergency earlier in the year, and its resolution on Biodiversity.

"It follows similar resolutions by Bath and North East Somerset Council and South Somerset Council which offered specific protection to badgers in light culling licences. We have received many enquiries from the public in relation to the culling of badgers on Town Council land, and took this opportunity to offer protection to the many other wild species of animals under our stewardship." 

Dee Ward-Thompson, Technical Manager, British Pest Control Association welcomed the Town Council’s aim to reduce the use of pesticides and protect wildlife but said that “rodents need to be controlled when they pose a risk to human health.

Ms Ward-Thompson said that while using live capturing methods “can be very effective and negates the use of poisons” it will still require the rodents once caught to be “humanely despatched”.

“Releasing rats and mice away from where they’re caught could cause many issues for both the rodents and any people nearby,” she added. 

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