HOMEOWNERS in Cheshire are being urged to guard against a fresh invasion of rats this autumn.

Pest experts fear a combination of cold and wet weather could push the rodents to seek food and shelter indoors, and have urged residents to protect their properties.

Dee Ward-Thompson, technical manager at the British Pest Control Association, 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.”

The BCPA says rats can access homes through gaps as small as 15mm, often using plumbing pipes and unscreened vents or gaps in the eaves and roof edges.

Residents may hear noises under the floorboard, or in walls or loft – the rats’ most likely destination once inside.

Mrs Ward-Thompson said: “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.”

Preventing an infestation is much easier than getting rid of one, and BPCA advice includes sealing up any external gaps, holes or crevices and keeping yards and gardens – potential nesting sites – clean and tidy.

Another tip is to keep bin lids closed, disposing of rubbish and leftover food carefully.

Areas around bird feeders should also be kept clean and pet food bowls should not be left out overnight.

If you do find an infestation, you should employ recognised professionals to take care of the problem.