Posted : Tuesday 20 September
I am grateful living in Kursaal ward myself to be able to access the lovely Southchurch Hall Park . A year or two back there was an element of the park being used as a venue by those imbibing alcohol. It looks like the involvement of Southchurch Hall Inspirational Parkers have been instrumental in all round improvements of the park.
I walk through Southchurch Hall Park at least once a week since its a shortcut to Lidl Supermarket on woodgrange rd. I don't think its an exaggeration to say that the park seems to be coming over run with Brown Rats Rattus norvegicus.
There are one or two issues that the increasing population of brown rats is going to cause. Firstly I have seen water voles Arvicola.sp in the lake a few weeks back. If you consider the opinion that Grey squirrels were involved in the decline of Red Squirrels due to populating the same habitat then it stands to reason that the presence of brown rats will have a negative effect on the population of Water Voles in the park. Water voles are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
The legal stance on brown rats is put succinctly is that they have humane protection but can be killed by "authorised persons " with permission of the land owner. Now this is going to cause an issue of how to reduce the Brown Rat Population ; for instance if anticoagulant bait was positioned even in protective tunnels to stop access by birds it would still be a risk to the voles. If any did die from " Rat Bait " whoever laid the bait such as difenacoum would have committed an offense.
Possible approaches might be to use the difference in weight just like the fact that mice traps are targeted against mice and the much bigger rat traps against rats. Fenn Traps in protective tunnels might be an option so might live trapping. Live trapping though would be labour intensive in that traps due to humane reasons would be needed to be checked every few hours.
The other issue with Brown Rats is that they can be a reservoir for the bacteria L. icterohemorrhagiae which seem to live quite happily in the kidneys of rats without causing any harmful affect to the rats. The problem is that the rats discharge the bacteria out with their urine which will also contaminate any water they frequent. So this means that the water will become an increasing health Hazard particularly to children who can often be seen putting their hands in the small stream which feeds out of the lake.
Obviously there is less chance of this happening in Autumn compared to summer. Its also a risk to workers in the park since anything contaminated with rat urine could contain Weils Disease or ' Leptospirosis ' if bacteria get into the blood stream via small cuts or scratches. Weils disease can be fatal if not adequately treated.
Another issue of rats is due to their incisor teeth; sooner or later they will get into the hall where they can cause considerable damage to electrical wiring . Now from a birds eye view the best way probably to tackle the issue is to stop the Brown Rats food source which as I have seen is the cereal based products that people throw to feed the pigeons. That would not affect the Voles since they eat grasses and waterside vegetation 227 plant species have been identified in their diet and additional broadleaved plants may also be eaten at certain times.
Now for people to stop chucking down Rats Delight people need educating . I've walked just about every inch of the park and there are next to no signs I could see of decent size I found 2. I do not agree with what the sign says see image above in regard to Porridge Oats Rice and Bird Seed. All these will provide a lovely sustainable diet for the rats. Its going to need some thinking with Winter approaching and thus not undermine the ducks but not to help the rats. A start might be to change the sign and say something like " if you want to feed the Ducks OK but use vegetables like lettuce. DO not Feed the Pigeons."