Heath conservators' 'difficult decision to use rat poison' after littering leads to infestation

Brown Rat

Brown Rat - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Conservators Of Therfield Heath and Greens have spoken further about their decision to authorise the use of poison to exterminate rats on Therfield Heath, saying they are in a "difficult position, balancing the risks to humans and the heath’s wildlife and ecology"

The Conservators were ordered by North Herts District Council to rid the heath car park area opposite Royston  McDonald's of ""well over 100" rodents under the Pest Act 1949 because of the risk to humans from the infestation.

Bromadiolone poison is being placed by pest controllers into secure bait boxes, which are then placed within the litter bins' bases. 

People out on Therfield Heath in the sunshine at the weekend. Picture: Clare Swarbrick

People out on Therfield Heath in the sunshine at the weekend. Picture: Clare Swarbrick - Credit: Archant

The rats migrated to the area as a result of the food waste left nearby - so Conservators have reissued a plea to those using the heath to take their rubbish home to help prevent the issue in future. 

They have also urged heath users to keep young children and dogs close and within eyesight to ensure that they do not come into contact with rats/rat remains in the area around the car park while the extermination takes place. 

Concerns over the impact on wildlife have been put to the conservators, with members of the community questioning the use of the poison on a nature reserve. 

Clare Swarbrick was elected chair of the Conservators of Therfield Heath and Greens last year

Clare Swarbrick was elected chair of the Conservators of Therfield Heath and Greens last year - Credit: Sara Porter

Chair Clare Swarbrick has told the Crow: "Unfortunately some users of the car park are disposing of their uneaten food irresponsibility which is providing a food source for the rats.

"Once NHDC contacted us under the Pest Act we had to act and during the risk assessment we looked at all the options and worked with a pest control expert.

Most Read

"We are in a difficult position balancing the risks to humans and the heath’s wildlife and ecology. We appreciate the concerns from the community and hope that by sharing the evidence used they can see how we made this difficult decision. 

"We will monitor the situation at the Therfield Road car park and keep the public updated, please do your bit by taking litter home."

To view the evidence around the decision, go to http://www.therfieldheath.org.uk/additional-information-on-rat-measures/.

Wildlife enthusiasts in the town have expressed concern, but have also urged people to take rubbish home and dispose of it properly.  

Don Shewan, chairman of Royston Wildlife Group told the Crow: "Some of the birds feed on carrion, you get a rat that dies but it's stomach is full of poison, so it would then get transferred to the bird. 

"The cause is a combination of several things - irresponsible developments, people not taking their rubbish home and the rats having a waste food source.

"The conservators are getting a hard deal but it wasn't their fault that this rubbish was generated. People should be taking their waste home with them. In the past you would have rat catchers, and they would catch and shoot them rather than use poison."

Red kite over Therfield Heath by David Hatton

A red kite over Therfield Heath by David Hatton. - Credit: David Hatton

Royston birder and photographer David Hatton said conservators did their research and had to act.

He told the Crow: "Scavengers that could come across rats on the heath and ingest them include red kite, common buzzard and members of the crow family. 

"These species can be expected to be seen on all but the briefest of visits to the heath - usually singles or small groups, mainly flying over looking for carrion.

A red kite over Therfield Heath by David Hatton. 

A buzzard over Therfield Heath. - Credit: David Hatton

"I know that the conservators have researched and consulted around this tricky issue and they need to act quickly in response to the notice by NHDC.

"It's not ideal to use poisons - especially on nature reserves, most would agree - but I'd imagine that there are many other sites nearby, industrial, urban or farm settings for example, where this is happening and it's unlikely to be as well managed as on the heath."

A North Herts District Council spokeswoman told the Crow: "NHDC is aware of the complaints of rats in the Therfield Heath area, and are in communication with the landowners to address this matter.

"It is the responsibility of each land owner to manage the infestation of pests on their land. If this is contracted out, the landowner is still responsible to ensure that any chemicals used are legally permissible and that the pest control processes followed are as safe as practicable, so as to ensure that the public and any non-target animal species are not endangered."