Rats have invaded an estate after being forced out of their nests by heavy rain.

People living on Ninefields estate in Waltham Abbey have been warned by Epping Forest District Council not to feed birds over fears it encourages rats to venture near homes and escalate the problem.

Residents are also being asked to store any waste or animal food in “rat-proof containers”, which are described as closely-woven, strong steel mesh, or similar.

Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs has advised against using the traditional pest control technique of laying poison.

The council has launched an investigation into the problem following a number of sightings.

A spokesman said: “Rats are a natural part of the environment which limits the amount of practical action that can be taken.

“It is chiefly a case of the residents doing what they can so as not to encourage the rats.

“Rats are usually present in most areas in low numbers and will usually only stop, set up home and multiply if they have access to food.”

Anyone living in the area is advised to store food waste and animal food in a rat-proof container.

The spokesman added: “There are directions from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs to reduce the amount of poison put into the environment, and many pest control companies are trying to find ways of dealing with rats without using poison bait.

“Obviously if rats are getting into someone's home there are ways and means of eradicating them but rats are and will always be part of the natural outdoor environment.”