Grandpa Webb's blog

Monday, 23 September 2013

There is something in our kitchen ceiling

When I came down to make the coffee one morning, on the kitchen worktop was a small pile of dust. Directly above it, alongside one of the flush ceiling lights, was a hole. The dust on the worktop was plaster which had been nibbled to make the hole.

Grandpa WebbSomething was living in our kitchen ceiling.

I looked up the local council’s Environmental Health Department. Their pest control people deal with rats, mice, pharaoh ants, wasps, fleas, bedbugs, and cockroaches. Rats are free, but there are charges if you want any of the others dealt with.

I wasn’t concerned about the cost, I just wanted whatever had taken up residence in our kitchen ceiling evicted – and as soon as possible. There was distinct smell of animal around the hole in the ceiling, and now I think about it, in the past few months there had been the occasional noise from the wall behind the sink.

On one memorable evening, grandma drew my attention to mysterious sounds behind the kitchen sink. It was a windy night and when I went outside, the garden hose, which is coiled on the wall outside the kitchen, was flapping about. “It’s just the garden hose banging against the wall,” I said confidently.

The nibbled plaster provided firm evidence that the hose was innocent. Something was walking about. The council said they would send round one of their pest controllers to have a look. In the meantime I blocked the hole in the ceiling by screwing a piece of metal gauze over it. While I was fixing the gauze, some droppings fell out, which I collected as evidence for the man from Environmental Health.

The question was, how did, whatever it was, get into the kitchen ceiling? The unexpected entry of animals often follows building work. The only work done in our house in the last year was removal of a crumbling chimney stack.

Could it be bats? I didn’t want it to be bats. Bats are a protected species and if they take up residence, you cannot remove them. But if they were getting in where the chimney used to be, how did they get to the kitchen ceiling? And would they want to live in a space kept warm by hot halogen lamps? Just to make sure I cleared out the loft and checGrandpa Webbked the rafters for small creatures hanging upside-down. Mercifully I didn’t find any.

Next day John from Environmental Health arrived with the answer. He had a woolly hat, big boots and was the sort of man who you knew could exist for months in the wild with just a penknife and a box of matches. Luckily his van didn’t have ‘Pest Control’ written on the side. 

He looked at the droppings: “That’s a rat,” he said.

I suppose the good news was that treatment would be free, but the bad news was that it was a rat.

Outside the house we looked for places where the rat could have got in. “They follow the outline of a building, and if they find a hole big enough to poke their head through, they can get in,” said John. The number of cases of rats in houses has increased in line with the increase in the number of house extensions and add-on conservatories, he says.  

I found where our rat was getting in. About 20 years ago we had extended our kitchen. Part of the work involved boxing in a soil pipe. At the place where the soil pipe emerged from the kitchen extension, behind the pipe where no one could see it, there was a small gap in the cement. Our rat was entering the gap, climbing up inside the boxed-in section and getting into the ceiling. 

What now? Rats are clever creatures and it seems that they are wary of mechanical traps. Environmental Health says ultrasonic deterrents work for a while, but rats can become accustomed to the sound and ignore it. The most effective way is to put down poison bait.

John put a dish of granules alongside the soil pipe entrance and some different stuff in the hole in the ceiling. Just to be sure he lifted our drain cover and put some blue granules down the sewer.    

He came back a week later to see if any of the bait had been taken. We knew the rat was still alive because the previous night we had heard him scrabbling about in the ceiling. John confirmed that he had eaten most of the bait. The next step was to put down more bait. If this is undisturbed after a week, the rat is dead.

Later that day, on her way to the dustbin, grandma met the rat. When it saw her it hopped slowly away to the soil pipe and hid behind some buckets where the bait had been placed. I don’t think he was well.

We saw no more of the rat until a few days later when there was a body of a rat on the lawn looking distinctly second-hand. He was a bit longer than I expected, and I think he had been chewed by a fox. Anyway we had a corpse. I photographed it to show to John, who was well pleased.

I have now blocked the hole in the cement round the soil pipe and the mysterious noises have stopped – thanks to John and Environmental Health. All we have to do now is get the ceiling fixed 

It could have been worse. It could have been bats…

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