If it had been claimed a year ago that rodent activity was set to become a bigger issue for Dublin homeowners due to the city centre being largely deserted and most restaurants and bars being closed, most would have said they smelled a rat.
However, figures provided to The Irish Times show that health authorities recorded a 25 per cent increase in rodent activity across the county last year.
Pest-control experts say the upheaval to normal city life brought about by Covid-19 restrictions has driven rats and mice towards domestic settings, particularly apartment blocks. The closure of food businesses, quiet city streets and a rise in fly-tipping are all said to be contributory factors.
"Rodents tend to follow the food," said Chris Izart, head of the National Pest Technicians Association.
The rise in rodent numbers recently led Dublin City Council to open its own pest-control unit and increase the number of specially trained staff in the area.
Data supplied by the Health Service Executive, the primary responder to rodent reports, showed public requests for assistance from its pest-control department increased by more than 25 per cent last year, from 4,647 in 2019 to 5,831. It noted a similar rise in site visits, from 18,588 to 23,324, though each situation requires an average of four visits to remedy.
Mr Izart said private pest-control companies had witnessed a complete shift in their work patterns last year – once restaurants and other food establishments closed, rodents moved increasingly to domestic settings.
With people spending more time at home, food preparation and consumption, as well as waste disposal, is now overwhelmingly focused in those areas.
This, Mr Izart explained, has often led to overflowing communal bins and infestations, as well as to rodents entering houses and apartments.
“That has created a lot of call-outs for companies. The turnover we lost on restaurants and coffee shops, we gained it back on the private house calls that have problems. The rodents have moved,” he said.
The hoarding of food early in the pandemic also caused some issues, with Mr Izart noting the case of one client who had mice in their attic as a consequence of storing large amounts of dried pasta there. Similarly, some restaurants waiting to reopen have found rodents among their stored dry stock.
Rodents are typically split between rats and mice with both more or less posing equal health risks, said Mr Izart, whose company, Owl Pest Control, works with more than 80 property management companies across the capital.
The council said pandemic factors had played their part – as well as a shorter, milder winter, an increase in household waste and fly-tipping, and a reduction in activity at regular food sources such as restaurants and bars.
“These factors and the reduced footfall in the city increased the accessibility of the city to rodents and wildlife in general,” it said.
Drains are being surveyed where issues are detected and repairs carried out, the council said, and changes have been made to how bins are stored in flat complexes, and CCTV has been installed to investigate reports of illegal dumping.
“We continue to maintain the green spaces in our complexes to reduce harbourage for pests,” it said.
Of Dublin’s four local authorities, only Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown said it had not had an increase in rodent-related reports.
Fingal County Council, in the north of the county, where HSE data points to a slightly higher rate of activity, said its referrals to the HSE had risen by 4.6 per cent (304 to 318).
“The slight rise in reported sightings could be attributed to a number of factors, including the increase in the number of people working from home and building works in local areas,” a spokesman said.
South Dublin County Council reported a 31 per cent increase between 2019 and last year, from 501 complaints to 657.
“The vast majority of complaints in both years were made by individual callers to the council, reporting rodent sightings or activity in their rear gardens and sheds, with a small percentage relating to rodents inside houses,” said Michael McAdam, senior executive officer in the council’s environment department.
“The biggest increase in complaints occurred in the months of March to June of 2020, which coincided with the first lockdown for the Covid-19 outbreak. [We] attribute much of this increase to the huge numbers of people working from home and noticing activity in their properties and gardens as the weather was warm and days long.”
Mr McAdam added that restaurants and pubs being closed, and the resulting loss of food supply, had “forced many rats out from the sewers and into gardens in search of food”.