‘The normal food sources were taken away’: Pest expert sees increase in rat problems during pandemic
Hannah Neary, local democracy reporter
A pest control specialist says he saw an increase in reports of rat issues during the pandemic.
Philip van der Watt, who owns Bridgend Pest Control, said he received around 50% more calls regarding rat problems over the last 12 months, particularly linked to domestic gardens.
“Pest control is fairly seasonal, so generally in winter you get more rodents and in summer you see more insects,” he said. “But this summer, the volume of calls for rats was up.”
Mr van der Watt, who has worked in the industry for eight years, said the increase in reports about rats could be explained by multiple factors – warmer weather, people spending more time at home and the closure of pubs, cafes and restaurants during lockdown.
“People are in their gardens and at home more so they’ll be more likely to be aware of things.
“The weather over the last year was also particularly pleasant and food sources changed because restaurants and pubs were closed. The normal food sources were taken away and so you’ve got a lot more movement of rodents trying to find a new potential source.”
A report by officers from Bridgend Council stated there was a notable increase in pest control requests in the county borough from March 2020.
Earlier this year, a local councillor said residents were contacting her daily about issues with rats in their homes and gardens, particularly those living in homes close to town centres.
The increased demand for pest control services has also been reflected on a UK level. Rentokil revealed the number of UK pest control inquiries rose by 22% between April and June 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.
But despite getting more calls for domestic rat problems, business has been far from easy for Mr van der Watt over the last year.
During the first UK lockdown in March, he decided to stop working for a few weeks until he felt sure it was safe for him to enter peoples’ homes again.
“There were a couple of calls where someone would be crying because they’d got a rat issue in their property but I just didn’t feel safe at the time,” he said.
“Initially, I didn’t work for three weeks and put everything on hold. For many months lots of my contacts didn’t get serviced because we just didn’t have enough information really.
“I could only take guidance from the British Pest Control Association on whether we were classed as essential workers and things like that. Eventually the government said we could work if there’s an environmental health risk to people but I was picking and choosing jobs. I would only work outside such as wasps nests and external rat issues.”
He also had to stop working after falling ill twice with Covid-19 – once in April and again in December. “Finance-wise it’s been up and down.”
He said the volume of calls about rodents are still not back to “normal” levels in Bridgend and he is “still getting a couple of calls a day for new work”.
With pubs and restaurants expected to reopen outdoors in Wales in late April, Mr van der Watt said it is hard to predict whether this will significantly reduce the number of rat problems in domestic properties.
“I can’t really see a shift of rodent colonies moving back immediately,” he said.
“It might be progressive because everything was just shut down all at once and that food source just stopped whereas I think that food source in domestic properties is still there but there’ll be some influence from the reopening of commercial properties.”
While he has not noticed any particular areas in Bridgend county borough where rat infestations are worse than others, he said rodents will always gather near watercourses and infestations are often harder to tackle in terraced properties.
“There tends to be more up the Valleys because of the age of the buildings and the construction of the terraced properties where rodents can move freely between them.”
He also said he would advise against feeding bird and building decking right next to homes.
“Feeding birds in gardens is the number one attractor for rodents. Although we all like to feed them, it really is counterproductive to rodent issues. They absolutely love it – it’s free food.
“I would never have decking up against a property – 70% of all my rat problems in properties are linked to the drains. Drain surveys are a huge part of my work now.
“No matter how much prep or groundwork you do, you can’t stop them getting under there. It’s a permanent shelter and if you put a structure like that up against a property, they’ve got access to your property 24/7.”