A MOTHER has told of her horror after finding a children’s playground infested with rats while out with her two youngsters.

Westcliff resident Francesca Smith was enjoying a day out at Priory Park in Southend with her partner and two young boys, aged two and four, on Sunday, October 3.

While her kids played, Francesca spotted what she thought were squirrels grazing near the edge of the playground.

“As we got closer it dawned on us it was just loads of rats everywhere. I was freaked out, it was so gross,” Francesca said. “They were actually in the playground, next to all the equipment.”

The mother-of-two who has been visiting the park since her eldest was born four years ago, says there seem to be more rats every time she visits.

She continued: “We always go to Priory and see a fair few rats around the lake, but to see so many of them in the playground! It’s just not right if you’re seeing a hoard of rats in the playground.”

Southend Council has confirmed it is aware of the rats in Priory Park, and says it has measures in place to control the population.

“I’ve never seen it this bad before. I understand it’s a park and wild animals need somewhere to live, but it seemed in excess,” Francesca said.

“When we went to the duck pond we could see all the holes where they had made for their nests. My son threw a bit of bread, he’s only little and it didn’t reach the pond, and two rats came out and dragged the bread down to their nests.”

Cllr Carole Mulroney, cabinet member for environment and planning, said: “We are aware of brown rats at Priory Park and have measures in place to control their numbers. These mammals are highly adaptable and will happily live in a variety of habitats.

“Brown rats are common and widely spread throughout the UK, in both urban and rural locations near human habitation and are already one of our most common mammals in Britain.

“The availability of food will affect both the number of rats living in the park and the effectiveness of control measures. Brown rats are omnivorous and will eat almost anything.

“Visitors to the park can help us in controlling the population by taking leftover food from picnics home with them and not overfeeding the ducks, as any food the ducks do not eat is likely to be taken by the rats.”