How many rats are there in Britain and is it true that we're never more than six feet away from one? For a long time it was estimated that there was one rat for every person in the UK. Urban myth or fact?
Dr Dave Cowan a wildlife leader at the Food and Environment Research Agency has estimated the following statistics. Rats are commensal (associated with human activities). He says that it is rare for rats to actually be inside our dwellings. Less than half a per cent, usually only a couple of rats. Around 3% of properties have rats present outside, so roughly 1.5 million rats in and around our homes. Rats also like hanging out in fashionable commercial properties, factories and shops. A survey suggests 5% of these have rats c200,000 in 1.8 million premises. Sewers are another favourite rat haunt. It is estimated that in the 16,000 square kilometres of pipework we have 5% occupied by rats. A count of 2000 rats per square kilometre of sewer means that there are about 1.6 million hanging out there and 3.3 million rats in urban environments. So a total of streetwise urban rats numbering 3-3.5 million.
Rats, like people, also like to have a place in the country, a rural retreat. Somewhere to head off to for the weekend. Rats have set up home in farms and around agricultural buildings. There are c200,000 of these des-res rat homes around the UK. 40% of them will have rats present, previous surveys have accurately estimated this to equate to 90 rats per farm, totalling 7 million rural rats. Therefore the total estimate for the UK is 10.5 million rats. Our present population give or take a few is 60 million, so we outnumber rats six to one, nowhere near the one to one often cited.
The maths for distance calculation is more rough and ready. First discount the rural rats because the phrase is really only used by city and town folk. Urban areas in the UK cover 16,000 square kilometres. If we distribute the 3.1 million urban rats evenly, each rat has a spacious 5000 square metres to scurry about in. So if you stand in an urban area you would be at most 164 feet away or (50 metres) from your nearest rat....not six feet!
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