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Tim Bonner: The town that banned killing rats

Since at least the Black Death, the need to control rats by whatever means possible has been a fundamental part of civic life. The town councillors of Bradford on Avon have, however, decreed that their town is immune from the rodent which has plagued practically every other conurbation on the planet for millennia and has subsequently introduced a ban on killing rats. In a statement, the council has said that it "will, as far as the law allows, deny access to those engaged in, and otherwise prohibit, culling or hunting and other types of animal destruction on lands that it controls or manages". It added that "where necessary, this will include deployment of non-lethal methods of rodent control on Town Council lands".

After a number of newspaper stories questioning the council's stance it issued a 'clarification on pest control' in which it repeated its policy, but noted that it "has a legal duty under the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 to monitor the presence of rodents on its land, and to act in the event of an infestation, including a duty to destroy them". This is correct, but I am not sure that Bradford on Avon residents will be particularly thrilled to hear that they must be subject to an "infestation" of rats before the council will sanction lethal control. The basis of proper pest control is, of course, to ensure that populations do not reach the level of infestation whereby rats are running across people's doorsteps and posing a threat to human health.

As for "non-lethal methods of rodent control", the Pied Piper (who pre-dated even the Black Death) does not seem to be available and he anyway drowned the rats of Hamelin in a nearby river so would be disapproved of in Bradford-on-Avon, even before he started stealing children. That leaves live trapping, which even if it were to be practiced across the town would leave the tricky conundrum of what to do with the captured rodents. I think we can be fairly certain that the local farming community would not be overly keen on receiving them, so perhaps Bradford on Avon plans to send its rats to nearby Bath.

The serious point here is that importing the lunatic animal rights agenda into politics at any level only generates chaos and confusion. Bradford on Avon Town Council brought in its rat killing ban as part of an "Ecological Emergency action plan", but of course few things are as damaging to ecological diversity than an infestation of rats. The management of species to create balance, reduce human / animal conflict, and protect biodiversity is critical to ecological recovery, whether in town or country.

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