ONE of Scotland’s most historic and upmarket areas is so rat-infested the residents and businesses have been ordered by law to wipe them out.
Edinburgh Council has taken the rare step of issuing prevention of damage by pest notices to several homes, shops and restaurants in the city’s Rose Street South Lane.
The rats pose a health risk to residents and are understood to have caused damage in the area by gnawing through electrical wires, pipes, and food containers, and tunnelling under the road and pavement.
The mayhem is happening just yards from Rose Street, which is one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions because of its high-end stores, restaurants and pubs.
The notices legally force property owners to pay to bring in professional pest controllers to eradicate the rats, a job that can cost hundreds of pounds.
Council officials are allowed to enter the property of those who refuse to take action, kill the rats, and then bill the owners.
Environmental health staff have already killed rats in “derelict basements” where owners failed to deal with the problem.
The issue of rat and mice infestations has become acute in Scotland’s major cities in recent years with an average of 16 call outs a day to deal with rodents.
But the issuing of notices under the Prevention of Damage by Pest Act 1949 is an unusual step and reflects the severity of the problem in parts of Edinburgh’s New Town.
An insider said: “Rats are a historical problem in that part of Edinburgh and it became bad enough that the council decided it was finally time to step in and sort it out.
“These notices are very rare and the council hardly ever hand them out.”
The source added: “They knew by handing these notices that nobody would want to deal with it themselves so it gave them the go-ahead to step in and take action.
“The council are still in the area rat baiting and it can take a while before everything gets completely sorted.
“I think the council are glad that they can step in and finally sort out the problem.”
Rob Hunter, manager of the Black Cat pub on Rose Street, blamed the council’s rubbish collection policies for the problem.
Mr Hunter, who said his business had not received a notice, said: “There were environmental wardens hear last week, checking resident’s bins.
“One problem is residents on either side of the lane have their rubbish collected on different weeks.
“Sometimes people will put their bins out and they will lay there for days, as bin men will refuse to collect them.
“That’s just one of the crazy rules that the bin men seem to have.”
Craig Donaldson, 26, who lives on Rose Street, said: “I used to work in a bar on Rose Street and we used to see them in the back alleys when we were disposing of rubbish. They were pretty big.
And Terrance Reynolds, 66, who lives in Rose Street South Lane itself, said he had seen rats running across the cobblestones.
“The council were checking here yesterday,” he said.
“They’re going to come along and cover the holes leading to the stairwell in case they spread.”
Silvia Hill, the director of a pest control firm in Edinburgh, said: “We are aware of a long-standing problem in that area, and regularly have call-outs.
“Rats are very clever, and if there is a food source for them, and somewhere to nest, then they can breed very quickly.
“Rats can cause all sorts of damage by gnawing and chewing though pipes, wires and other parts of buildings. They can also spread disease.
“If there is a good food source, from unemptied bins, or people leaving food out, then you can attract rats.”
All of Scotland’s biggest cities have dealt with thousands of cases of rats in past years.
Glasgow had almost 17,000 reports of rat infestations in the five years between 2007 and 2012.
Edinburgh Council revealed last year it had received 4,722 calls about rats in the eight years between 2004 and 2012.
Aberdeen said it had 1,373 rat infestations since 2001 and Dundee had 2116 over the same period.
Edinburgh Council declined to discuss the legal action in the Rose Street area in detail.
A spokeswoman would only say in a statement: “Council staff proactively and effectively dealt with a small pocket of rats in this vicinity in order to prevent any cleanliness issues affecting properties and businesses.”