Families in Derbyshire are being warned to brace themselves for an invasion of rats over Christmas.
Forecasters predict temperatures will plummet in the next few weeks as Britain is hit by a cold snap.
And pest experts fear that a combination of icy conditions and over-flowing dustbins could lead to a huge spike in the number of rodent infestations over the holiday period.
Rob Simpson, managing director of pest controllers register BASIS PROMPT, reckons the double attraction of food and warmth has the potential to lead to big problems.
He said: “There are likely to be many more rats than usual at the moment thanks to the abnormally mild conditions throughout the UK this year.
“But cold weather on the way will drive them into buildings in search of shelter and they’ll also go scrounging for food from bins and bird tables.
“So the Christmas and New Year period is likely to provide them with the perfect opportunity, particularly as it’s party time with fewer bin collections.
“People who don’t take precautions could be getting unexpected guests who are less welcome than the in-laws.”
A typical home may have more than a dozen potential entry points for rats, which can transmit a variety of diseases to humans.
They get through gaps as small as 2cm, often using plumbing pipes and unscreened vents or gaps in the eaves and roof edges.
Mr Simpson added: “The first evidence of rats in a home is often noises in the loft as that’s where most will head to once they’re inside.
“That noise is not something to be ignored as, 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 too.
“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.”
Mr Simpson says homeowners can take simple precautions to help keep their homes pest-free.
He added: “It’s much easier to prevent an infestation than to get rid of one.
“So the best advice is to thoroughly inspect properties and seal up any external gaps, holes or crevices that can provide rats with a way in.
“Doors and windows are another weak area and those that don’t close properly provide an open invitation.
“Rats will always gravitate towards food so the tidy maintenance of bins is very important. All rubbish should be disposed of carefully and left-over food in particular should never be left lying about.
“Areas around bird feeders should be kept clean, don’t leave pet food bowls out overnight and keep weeds and debris well away from buildings as they can be a handy hiding place for rodents.”
Homeowners who suspect an infestation should seek guidance from experts, according to Mr Simpson.
He added: “If people try to deal with issues themselves, or bring in unqualified controllers to save money, problems might not be dealt with properly and could get out of hand.
“I can understand people wanting to save money, particularly at Christmas, but the treatment of rats is often complicated and specialised.
“I would urge people to use pest controllers who are members of the BASIS PROMPT register. That way, they’re assured a safe, effective and legal treatment.”
Members must be experts in the field and will always be aware of the latest techniques, products and legislation.