Cycle clips, wellies and big sticks have become the temporary fashion trend for villagers on the Yorkshire coast, where a picturesque village has been invaded by rats.
Families in the Marine Road area of Flamborough, scene of an epic naval battle with the Americans during the war of independence in 1779, are fighting a fresh engagement against thousands of unusually bold vermin.
Rat-runs criss-cross dozens of local gardens and drivers have been brought to a halt by up to 200 of the rodents crossing the road.
“We’ve been overrun with them â€“ it’s been horrendous for residents,” said Steve Crowther of Flamborough parish council. “There were just a few to start with but now there seem to be thousands.”
However, Paul Lawson, who runs a hotel in the village, played down the story. “It’s all been greatly exaggerated. You expect rats in the countryside. There’s been a problem in part of the village but it’s dealt with now.”
Pest control officers are focusing on fields left waterlogged by winter rain and snow, which has stopped farmers carrying out their usual ploughing of stubble. The short stalks of corn are a rat’s ideal food supply, and breeding in hedgerow nests is thought to have doubled or tripled.
More than 30 bait boxes have now been laid, and carcasses of half a dozen rats at a time are being removed in relays. Villagers have sealed catflaps after reports of rats using them to get into houses, and nearby villages, always keen to get one-up on neighbours, have nicknamed Flamborough ‘Ratville’.
Julie Sanders, a resident, said: “It’s like the Pied Piper tale up here. I’ve been sat talking on the phone, watching out of my window as they’ve run along my garden wall. We’ve been asked by the council not to put food out for the birds because the rats eat it. They act like gangs. They really do swarm.”
Crowther, who runs a local DIY store, said that there were serious worries about the outbreak affecting tourism, which is important on the magnificent stretch of coast north of Bridlington. Flamborough Head’s chalk cliffs are among the highest on the English coast, with dramatic sea-eroded rock formations and internationally famous colonies of seabirds.
The rats are meanwhile attracting short-term sightseers, after hearing descriptions, such as Crowther’s, of the worst of the infestation. He said: “A friend of mine went down to one of the fields with his dogs and when he was coming back in his car there was just a swarm of rats in the road, about two or three hundred. It was like a big brown mass and as soon as the headlights caught them they were buzzing everywhere.”