A Basingstoke pest control company has confirmed that there’s been a noticeable increase in rat incidents in the town compared to last year.

Shane Jones, a pest control technician at Kempshott-based RIDTEK, told the Gazette his team had seen a roughly 20 per cent rise in call-outs to rat infestations compared to last year.

“The main reason is the first lockdown. There are big areas that were kind of abandoned. Industrial estates. Rats were having to move into town to find food. All the bin stores in all the buildings were empty. Those are the places where rats like to go to get food,” he said.

Sarah Griffith, who lives on Kipling Walk, says that litter from the nearby St Michael’s Retail Park has led to a “terrible rat problem” in her area.

She said: “Every single bin is overflowing. I spoke to several retailers, but they didn’t seem aware it was anything to do with them.”

Sarah says she has contacted the borough council, spoken with managers at several of the businesses, and emailed the contact address advertised on the park’s empty units, but is yet to receive a clear response on what will be done.

She added: “Now we have a terrible rat problem in the local houses and this clearly won’t be helping!

“Our local area from the main road (Winchester Road) has a lot more rubbish than before the retail park went up.”

Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s head of environmental services, Tom Payne, told the Gazette that the council had received no such reports.

He said: “The council has received no reports of an issue with rodents in St Michael’s retail park or the surrounding area. The council fully understands the connection between waste accumulation and rat activity and has various powers to deal with such problems.

“In respect of council owned land, the council uses a pest control contractor to deal with infestations and will act on reports from the public. Similarly, where an infestation is reported on private land, the council will ensure that the land owner takes responsibility.”

Shane Jones added that, with more people at home, another issue has been an increase in bird feeding over the summer months.

He said: “Some advice is to put bird feeders in the middle of the lawn, not on the edge of the garden, because that’s where rats like to hide out. Rats don’t like to break cover.

“People don’t realise what’s going on until something bigger is going on. You see one rat, and suddenly there’s a whole family.”

Pest control work, as an “essential service” has continued throughout the pandemic, with Shane saying that the team has been busier ever, partly because customers are working from home.

“If you’re forced to stay at home and you have a rat inside your house, mentally it can be a real problem. Imagine being frightened in your own house. It’s not good. So part of what we do is actually give people back their homes,” he said.

He added that the safety measures in place are normal practice for them: “We are always being very careful - this wearing of masks and gloves is very normal for us. Hand sanitiser is in my van all the time.

“Social distancing for the local rat man, well no one wants to come near me anyway!”

Shane advises people not to just “tolerate” rats in their home, as they are unhygienic and can lead to bigger problems.

He said: “You shouldn’t have rats in your house. It’s extremely unhygienic. And we don’t know if rats can carry Covid on them, but I’m suspicious.”

He said that as well as moving bird feeders, people should check the parameters of their homes for any holes, and avoid having areas of their garden which go unkept or are used to “dump” things, as this is where rats will hide.

“It is not just about throwing poison around, it’s also about what rats do, where they are living, and identifying problems in buildings,” he explained.

“People will sometimes buy stuff online, and two or three weeks later they are calling us anyway. Sometimes they are just feeding them!”

As the weather gets colder and wetter, Shane predicts the increase in rodents to be a “trend”.

It comes as pest control services, currently subsidised by the borough council for certain qualifying groups, is one service at risk of being affected by recent suggested cuts.

At a cabinet meeting last month, Cllr Carolyn Wooldridge (Labour, Norden), argued that planned charges of £60 for pest control was something many “simply cannot afford.”

“I can just see an environmental health problem looming if this is implemented. This is so unfair and no way to treat our residents,” she added.

Tom Payne said: “Removing a subsidy for pest control fees for residents who receive benefit payments is just one of the proposals in the current budget consultation.

“Residents, businesses and organisations are being encouraged to share their views on the proposals at www.basingstoke.gov.uk/budget2020. The feedback received during the public consultation, which runs until 3 January, will be considered by the Cabinet before a decision on the budget is taken at a meeting of Council on 25 February 2021”.