Author: Suse Coon

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Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008 at 11:39 pm
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Summer Time and the Midges are Biting

Midges are the bane of the Scottish Countryside – probably the second greatest deterrent for tourists after the weather. But most tourists come prepared for the weather, while few realise what a pest these little nippers can be.

It’s the female midge that bites, although you’d be hard pressed to spot the difference, and she lays her eggs following a blood meal. Midges are more prevalent from May until September when their numbers begin to drop off. The numbers of midges vary considerably from year to year, depending on the severity of the preceding winter, the amount of spring rainfall, and the temperature.

Midges like the halflight of dawn and dusk. They like damp, though not rainy conditions. They dislike bright sunlight and strong breezes. This means that you should be pretty safe from them while up in the high hills, but prepare to be dined upon in woodlands. Midges are found more in the north and west of Scotland with its damper climate, than in the south or the east. It is also believed that midges prefer dark coloured clothing to light.

With this in mind, we have been looking at midge repellents. We trialled two products with natural alternatives. These commonly contain citronella and eucalyptus oils. Citronella is a grass indigenous to Sri Lanka but now grown across the Middle and Far East and traditionally used as an insect repellent. Pure citronella oil – as opposed to products like this containing citronella – has been reported to increase heart rate and the recommendation is generally not to apply pure citronella oil directly to the skin or to use it while pregnant. They work by disguising your scent, making it difficult for insects to find you. If any do land, the oils confuse the insect’s nervous system making it difficult for them to bite.

Made from plant oils, MozzyOff offers you up to six hours protection from midges and other biting insects such as mosquitoes, black fly and gnats. It’s water resistant so sweating on the hill climbs didn’t cause it all to run off and, unlike chemical based products, it doesn’t harm clothes, though you don’t want it in your eyes. It’s easy to apply as it comes in a plastic bottle of liquid (biodegradable) and the packaging is recycled and recyclable so its good news for the environment too. The active ingredient here is Margosa extract, but Vitis vinifera, Pelargonium graeolens, Eucalyptus citrodora, Myrica gale and Citrus Aurantifolia appear too. We like it! It is also apparently a hit with forestry commission workers who trialled it for the manufacturer.
Available from most outdoor shops and from Amazon

The active ingredient in Mosiguard is extract of Lemon Eucalyptus. The Spray has an environmentally friendly spray nozzle, but the roll-on stick (60ml) or the tube of cream, is easier to apply to your face, as you want to avoid your eyes. We found we wanted to reapply before 6 hours although it was certainly effective and didn’t dissolve tee shirts that inadvertantly got sprayed. Available from many outdoor shops and from Amazon

Other options, if you’re out of doors, include the midge hood, assuming you don’t mind looking like Darth Vader with a hairnet.

Around the garden, citronella candles are popular but not as effective as a bonfire! Electric insect killers rely on attracting insects and flies to a bright light, where they will be electrocuted. These items aren’t recommended for out of doors and in Scotland, it is barely dark enough during the summer months for these to be effective out of doors anyway. Where they do come into their own is if you leave them on overnight.

Though tiny, this aggressive little beast really can spoil your time outside, whether enjoying nature or getting on with things in the garden. There is so much interest in midge activity that there is even an online midge forecast for up to a week ahead.

To learn more, we recommend the book  Midges in Scotland by George Hendry, who has produced a wealth of information on the midge.

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