Britain's rat population is increasing at an alarming rate and a new public information campaign has been launched to stem the tide of the disease-carrying rodents.

It is not a pleasant thought but environmentalists say rats are on the rise in Britain. They are crawling out of their normal hidden domains like sewers, and out into the open, lured there by scraps of food left by people.

The primary source is fast food: burgers, pizza and French fries. Britain's rat population has acquired a taste for it and the more they eat, the more they reproduce. According to the 2001 National Rodent Survey, there are an estimated 60 million rats in Britain. That works out to about one for every person in the country.

So, who is leaving food around that ends up being consumed by rats? Sue Nelson from the Keep Britain Tidy group says a number of types are to blame.

"It is young men generally in their early 20's. Women too, particularly coming home from the pub when they have had a drink and visit a take-away. But also, it is office workers leaving sandwiches and food on benches," she said.

The abundance of food scraps, according to Ms. Nelson, has made rodents bolder and she says if nothing is done, they will soon be as common a sight on British streets as cats or dogs.

Rat catcher Ian Thomas said restaurants that do not properly seal their refuse containers are also popular with rats. "All the food is just generally dumped out the back of them. People dump the rubbish on the streets and it is just a feeding ground," he said.

The amount of garbage thrown on London streets has increased a staggering 80 percent since the mid 60's, and given the fact that a rat can give birth every 24-28 days, just a single couple can produce a colony of 2,000 a year.

The Keep Britain Tidy information campaign message has been launched nationwide in movie theaters and via thousands of poster sites. The aim is simple: getting people to think about rats and not to leave food scraps around.

If attitudes are not changed, rodents will soon outnumber humans here and that gap will just keep on rising.