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Feeding the Rats

25/08/2010

The Park I have the great good fortune to live in a house with a view over a public park, which is blessed with a small lake that attracts large numbers of anglers and waterfowl.

It is a glorious place, with a host of different types of wildlife, including herons, rabbits… and foxes. Indeed, on winter nights, you can see the foxes padding across the ice of the frozen lake in search of prey.

The Problem But, there aren’t enough foxes to deal with the increasing problem of rats in this park. Rats in an area of parkland (there are five parks within a stone’s throw of here), are hardly a surprise. Nor is the continuing rise in vermin numbers locally, when you consider the marked increase in food littering around the edge of the lake. Quantities of food – including wrappers – are deposited daily. Whether mouldy bread or rice and chapatis  – the detritus reflects the multi-ethnic nature of our neighbourhood.

Our Health This is not good for public health – as rotting food waste feeds the growth in vermin numbers. Quite apart from anything else, it reduces the quality of life for everyone as the pleasure is removed from their family picnic or that evening stroll is spoiled by the rotting remains of fried rice or naan.

Dog walkers, in particular, have difficulty with this, because the food waste that is left beside the lake is precisely of the sort that is likely to poison their pets – even before it starts to rot. And dogs, in my experience, do not see “dodgy waste that is a bit off”: they just see lunch!

The Ducks Some readers will wonder how it can be that anyone should want to stop people going down to the local pond to feed the ducks. Well, apparently some people do. A few months ago, in a nearby borough, a mother was fined £75 for doing just that. Her local council had banned feeding the birds, except in designated places where their overabundant excrement would not pose a risk of slipping to passers-by.

Feeding the ducks is a great tradition and, as far as I can see, it is honoured here by single souls and happy families coming down and throwing small scraps of bread onto the water to the attentive swans, geese, mallards and moorhens that populate our lake and its surroundings. There is no suggestion that council bans or legal intervention are needed for that.

What I am worried about is not this activity – whereby small amounts of bread are cast onto the water – usually directly to the waiting beaks of the birds. Of more concern is the large amount of bread and other foods, left in mounds around  the lake to feed the rats…which hardly helps with hygiene or a sense of community wellbeing…

Religious Observance It might be argued that those who make this mess should not be criticized because it is a matter of religious observance. I plead partial  ignorance of the religious aspects of this matter but I can find nothing online to connect faith with a succession of motorists pulling-up beside a local beauty spot for two minutes every day in order to empty carrier bags of foodwaste beside the local pond.

Indeed, the only religious observance in this regard that I know of is Jewish. At around this time of the year, in the ritual of Tashlich (casting away), Jews cast a small quantity of food, typically breadcrumbs, onto or into flowing water. The bread symbolises your sins, as you try to atone for them, and the water the process of atonement. But, the water must be flowing, the bread must be small and cast onto the water and this happens only on one particular day in the early autumn.

What Works The problem lies not with local pedestrians ‘feeding the ducks’, nor with the once-a-year ritual of the religiously observant. It is a year-round problem of motorists intentionally littering a public open space.

Can anyone explain why this happens? What is the cultural significance of this continuing problem? What can be done to prevent it? What has worked elsewhere?

If we get graffiti vandals to help clean-up painted walls,  can’t those who dump this mess also be made to clear it away?

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2 Comments
  1. Sally permalink

    Sounds like rats of the human two-legged variety are on the increase as well as good old Rattus sp. Perhaps you have noticed some of them around though I suspect that unlike the fox they are not quite so shy during the day. Doubt if there is a cure, but if there were one for the rubbish then perhaps it could also be used to help cure the problem with dog owners who continue to refuse to clean up after their dogs. Relying on the law doesn’t help, I suppose because it isn’t regarded as high priority. Both, it seems to me, are reflective of a general apathy and disregard for our world and for others who share it.

    • Sadly, the quality of rattishness is pretty universal in humans; irrespective of gender, age, ethnicity or social status. It occurs particularly, I find, among people who really ought to know better…something I have learned through bitter personal experience.

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