A PLAGUE of rats is running riot in and around the River Avon in Chippenham town centre, according to a local businessman.

Rats are often visible around the river and the Town Bridge in broad daylight, said Jonathan Blacklock, director of Blacklock and Partners in Avon Reach, and is creating a bad image of the town.

“The place is heaving with them,” he said. “My office overlooks the river and you can see them running up and down the bank and swimming under the bridge.”

He said people threw large quantities of bread and corn for the birds, but rats were taking it – and added that the rat situation was an embarrassment when visitors came to the town.

“I have been here for nearly 30 years and in the last couple of years it has become very bad. It’s appalling. It’s embarrassing.”

Kathryn Crosweller, manager of Chippenham BID, said: “Despite signs both on the Town Bridge and on the railings by the river, people frequently feed the ducks and swans by the bank of the river, which inevitably attracts rats.

“For families with little ones, the bank of the river is a more fun and interactive place to feed the birds but it is very frustrating for the businesses along the river and I’m sure it is also frustrating for Wiltshire Council. It is a shame for the council to have to spend money addressing the issue which could easily be avoided.”

A Wiltshire Council spokesman said they were aware of the issues and ongoing problems in this area which were the result of excessive bird feeding.

“We are following the Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use (CRRU) code of practice,” he said.

“We have placed signs in the area but these were all ripped down or damaged within a few days. The permanent signs put up a few years to direct people to feed from the bridge and directly in the water rather than on the river bank have also been damaged.

“We installed bait boxes a few weeks ago and have been attempting to trap but it’s proving very difficult to get the rats into the boxes due to the amount of food on the river bank.

“We encourage people not to feed the birds and ducks in the area as it is causing these issues.

“We will continue to look at all the options available to us.”