ENVIRONMENTAL chiefs have issued a warning over increasing numbers of reports of rats plaguing the streets.
Hartlepool Borough Council has been called to almost 3,000 reports of rats in Hartlepool since April 2008.
Environmental officers at the council say reports are on the rise and have warned people not to leave rubbish in the streets or leave food for wildlife in their gardens that can then be taken by rats.
In 2008-09, environmental officers were called out to treat 996 rat problems – there were 1,079 in 2009-10, and from April 1 last year to January 10 this year there were 870 rat reports.
If the average for this financial year of around 96 calls a month continues then it would total around 1,160 rat call-outs, which is around an eight per cent rise over the last year.
Adrian Hurst, the council's principal environmental health officer, said: "There is no more of a problem in Hartlepool as anywhere else, but we are seeing a gradual increase in calls we are getting for rats.
"This year I expect it to come out to the level of last year, or maybe more.
"I would advise that people make sure their rubbish is in their bin and another issue is people feeding birds.
"If people are going to feed birds they should use bird feeders and not put huge amounts of bread out for birds as they are also feeding rats.
"What rats are looking for is food and if you are throwing bread over your lawn you are throwing a food source out for them and attracting them."
Council chiefs say rats are the biggest pest problem in the town and were followed by mice, which were reported 1,048 times during the same period, wasps with 677 reports
and cat and human fleas with 204 reports.
Experts say there is slightly more of a problem in the centre of Hartlepool.
But it is spread across other areas as the town is quite compact.
Mr Hurst added: "If people do have a problem with rats in their gardens, they should report them. We treat them for free and if they do tell us so we can deal with it.
"The bottom line is you are never going to be far away from a rat because they are a species that breeds quite rapidly and they live in the sewerage and drainage systems.
"It is about sensible controls and not leaving rubbish like takeaways around and not leaving food outside of bins."
Mr Hurst said the council works closely with Northumbrian Water, which operates sewerage systems in Hartlepool, to try to tackle any rat problems.
A spokeswoman for Northumbrian Water said: "We would like to reassure people that our sewers are not swarming with rats.
"We work closely with councils in connection with identifying rat hotspots and proactively baiting. We also reactively bait and cleanse and monitor sewers."
Anyone wanting to report a pest infestation should ring the council on (01429) 523357.