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Booming rat population on Hampstead Heath faces cull

PUBLISHED: 07:00 05 May 2012

Rats on Hampstead Heath. Picture: Roman Vester

Rats on Hampstead Heath. Picture: Roman Vester

Archant

Hampstead Heath bosses have ordered a cull of the growing rat colony on the beauty spot after complaints that the vermin were spoiling it.

Pest control measures have been brought into force after wet weather forced the rodents from their burrows onto the Heath, to the horror of joggers and walkers

Food offerings for birds left near the Ponds have also been blamed for the spike in the rat numbers.

Jogger Steve Brown, who has been pounding the Heath’s trails for 10 years, has stopped running in the area because of the number of rodents which block his path.

The 36-year-old HR director, of Belsize Park Gardens in Belsize Park, said: “One night I saw 12 of them when I was out running and the other night there were just two sat in the middle of the road.

“There were some people coming towards me and we all just froze. It was just horrible and I’ve actually stopped running there because it’s not relaxing any more.

“In my 10 years on the Heath I’ve never seen anything like it.

“You don’t expect to have to jump over them and dodge rats as you go for a run. It’s just not pleasant for anyone.”

Wildlife

Times newspaper columnist David Aaronovitch saw a host of rats on a five-mile jog.

He tweeted: “There are loads of brown rats living on the borders of Hampstead Garden Suburb and the Heath extension. Big ones.

“The rats, the rats! The Heath is crawling with them. Must have been the mild winter.”

But wildlife enthusiast Roman Vester – a regular on the Heath – said he had not noticed anything out of the ordinary.

“There have always been rats on the Heath and they’re not as fearsome as the ones in the sewer,” he said.

“They are just part of the wildlife there. They are terrified of people and they pose no danger.”

A spokesman for the City of London Corporation, which looks after the Heath, said: “Rats are more publicly visible in wet weather – which we have been experiencing in the past few weeks.

“They are less likely to stay underground in burrows and are forced out into the open by flooding and dampness, so are more noticeable to humans.

“One of the main attractions for rats is the overfeeding of birds on the Heath – particularly around the Ponds.

“They love to pick up bread scraps and discarded nuts and seeds, so we would encourage Heath users not to feed wildfowl indiscriminately, using large quantities of bread.

“We have specialist Heath staff who are trained in species control and are addressing the issue, following the correct, safe and appropriate way to control vermin.”

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