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Pest control: how to deter rats and foxes from your garden

Our gardens are full of wildlife, but not all of it is welcome. We look at making your garden less pleasant for rats and foxes.
urban fox in garden

While some people don’t mind seeing foxes, rats, mice or snails when they look out of the window, others would really rather keep them away. But short of living in a hermetically sealed bubble, it’s almost impossible to prevent unwelcome animals visiting your garden completely.

While local councils used to offer support with pest control, it’s now much more common for them to outsource these activities, and some have closed their pest-control departments altogether. So we asked our Which? Trusted Traders-endorsed pest controllers for advice on dealing with some of the most unpopular garden visitors.

If you need to find a pest controller, Which? Trusted Traders endorses businesses throughout the UK. All our endorsed traders have passed our rigorous assessment, to ensure they will treat customers fairly and work in line with the latest regulations.

Rats in the garden

Unfortunately, most people will have rats in their garden at some point, and there is little you can do to stop them entirely. However, you can make your garden less attractive to them.

Rats like places to hide and a regular food source; they are omnivores and will eat almost anything.

What can you do?

  • Avoid garden decking. ‘I wouldn’t have decking outside, it’s like a rat hotel,' Pestmaster’s Greg Ferguson said. ‘They’ll make nests underneath it unless you have it concreted underneath.’ Philip Voller from Which? Trusted trader The Pest Controller agreed, saying ‘If you eat outside, crumbs and bits of food can fall between the decking, providing ready-made meals for rats.’
  • Don’t keep animals in your garden. ‘There’s an old saying: if you keep chickens you keep rats,’ Philip said. ‘People want to be more self-sufficient and keep poultry, but they definitely attract rats.’
  • Concrete under your shed. Block any access underneath your garden shed – it’s a favourite place for rodents to nest. Having a concrete base or burying wire around the perimeter can help.
  • Keep bird food at a height. If you like to feed birds in your garden, make sure the food is up high on a table where the rats can't access it. 
  • Remove easy food sources. If you have pets, then keep their food in sealed containers and don’t leave food out overnight. 
  • If you eat outside, ensure you clear the area thoroughly afterwards.
  • Don’t use black bin bags on their own - ensure all waste is enclosed within hard plastic bins.
  • Use a solid container for composting – keep it free from food waste that has been heated. Stick to composting egg shells and vegetable matter.
  • Remove hiding places. Keep your garden open and leave plenty of gaps in planting.

Find more gardening advice from Which? Trusted Traders.

How to get rid of rats

Poison is the standard method to get rid of a rat infestation. While it is possible to buy rat poison at DIY stores, our Which? Trusted Traders wouldn’t recommend tackling it yourself. Many people won’t necessarily put it in the right place and, if used incorrectly, it can damage other wildlife, birds or pets.

 

Philip Voller, from Which? Trusted trader The Pest Controller, explained: ‘It’s important to get a trained professional, with the right equipment, when you’re putting down poisons. ‘I’ve known people put it on bird tables – then wonder why there are no birds in their garden.’

When poison is used incorrectly, it can build up in the ecosystem. ‘Around 80% of wild barn owls have traces of pesticides in their system,’ Philip added.

He uses a particular set-up involving snap traps for dealing with rats. The poison is in boxes, which need to be secured with a tether (a wire fixing them into place). ‘If you don’t tether the boxes and there’s a live rat in there, a dog or other large animal could make off with it,’ Philip told us. ‘Using the right equipment ensures you’re catching the rats without damaging other animals.’

Which? Trusted Traders has endorsed pest controllers in your local area if you have a problem with rats in your garden.

How to make your garden less fox-friendly

Foxes are another type of unpopular visitor to some gardens. Thanks to easy sources of food, their numbers are on the increase. If you’d rather keep them away, cut back shrubs and bushes so there is less cover, and consider adding some prickly plants.

Foxes like to dig,’ Pestmaster’s Greg Ferguson explained. ‘You can reinforce the edges of flowerbeds with wire to stop them digging – they won’t go through that. Also concrete under sheds, which is another popular area for them.’

Some homeowners will feed foxes, which makes it more difficult to discourage them from approaching people and their homes. ‘It reduces their fear of people,’ Philip Voller said. ‘People don’t realise how strong foxes are, you don’t want to encourage them.’

Walls aren’t likely to keep foxes at bay. ‘Foxes can easily jump a 6-foot wall,’ Philip told us. ‘You need to make your garden unattractive to them by keeping it clear of food sources.’

What can you do?

  • Don't leave food for pets outside at night.
  • Don’t keep pets in the garden – foxes can break into gerbil or rabbit hutches
  • Clear any windfall fruit and use roofed bird tables or feeders.
  • Seal all bins and composters – don’t use black bags
  • Clear away any food waste that’s outside your property.

Mark your territory

Scent is a powerful deterrent for foxes. They are territorial animals and use scent to mark the boundaries of their area. ‘I use something called Scoot,’ Greg said: ‘You mix it with water and foxes don’t like the smell.’

A cost-free alternative you can try is a man’s urine. Put that onto the areas favoured by the foxes every few days, and this should put them off – although you might get some odd looks from the neighbours. Never use a woman’s urine, though, as this will attract foxes rather than deter them. 

If you have a problem with foxes in your garden or home then call in an endorsed pest controller, who will be able to advise you on the best options.

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