RESIDENTS in Chester should brace themselves for a rat invasion this autumn, experts have warned.

Cold and wet weather is likely to force the creatures out of the sewers as they hunt for cosy new homes in garages and sheds.

People in some areas of the city centre have already reported seeing more of the critters scurrying between bins.

Meanwhile, one anti-rat campaigner in the city, William Neld of Boughton, has renewed his calls to introduce feral cats to tackle the problem.

Dee Ward-Thompson, technical manager at the British Pest Control Association (BPCA), said: “Rain washes rats out of sewers and other nesting places and, inevitably, they go looking for shelter in higher ground.

“They’ll try to find some sort of dwelling and that could be lofts, garages or sheds.

“Our members report the number of calls to deal with infestations often rises in the autumn when the temperature drops often quite dramatically and we’re expecting a similar pattern this time.

“So it’s important for homeowners to do as much as they can to ensure they’re not among those affected.”

Mr Neld, of Edge Grove, is convinced that cats could be a cost-effective solution to the problem and says feral felines already roam the Frodsham Marshes.

He told the Leader: “I have friends in Frodsham so I will see if it would be easy to acquire a couple of wild, feral cats that would be a God-send to the forgotten unkempt parts of Chester.

“Cats don't cost the Government anything, unlike using firms to put down poison that no longer works as the rats and mice have become immune.”

The BPCA has previously suggested rat numbers could soar as the creatures become resistant to the toxic pellets traditionally used to kill them.

It has urged people to help keep rats at bay by ensuring holes and crevices around their properties are sealed and yards and gardens are kept tidy. Lids should always be put on bins and pet food bowls should not be left out overnight.

The organisation says rats can access homes through gaps as small as 15mm, squeezing through pipes, vents or gaps in the eaves and roof edges.

Mrs Ward-Thompson added: “Quite apart from the health risks, they’ll foul water tanks and chew on wood or electrical wires which can cause a lot of damage and poses a fire hazard.

“They’ll also do their best to find sources of food, which means they can soon move to other areas of the house occupied by humans.

“Rats also breed rapidly and will create nests in attics or walls – so it’s vital to act as soon as any evidence is found.”