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Wednesday, July 22, 1998 Published at 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK


Euro-wasps make beeline for Britain

Best left alone: Wasps do not take kindly to disturbance

What is an inch-long, has a Latin name, and has carried out a systematic invasion of Britain's trees and bushes over the past two decades?

Eighteen years after its first recorded appearance, the dolichovespula media - or Euro-wasp - has reached record numbers in Britain after many survived the mild winter, and then prospered in the humid summer that has followed.

The worst hit area is East Anglia where dozens of the wasps' nests have been found.

Mike Grimwood, pest control manager for Ipswich council, said: "These wasps are a stronger, bigger breed, so when they sting you it's a bigger wound.

"They are more aggressive because their nests are outside, so they protect them more."

The experts say they are not actually more volatile, merely more likely to get into an argument than the traditional British wasp vespula vulgaris.

George Else from the Entymology department at London's Natural History Museum defended the continental invader from any suggestion that is was deliberately trying to cause trouble.

"It is not more aggressive," he said. "It simply lives in a place where it is more likely to be disturbed.

The native wasp tucks itself away from humans in sheds and lofts, whereas Euro-wasp prefers the great outdoors, where it lives in trees and bushes in smaller, well-hidden nests.

The unsuspecting gardener or rambler is therefore more likely to make the Euro-wasp angry by dislodging its home, with the inevitable, painful result.

Recent arrival

Mr Else says the Euro-wasp arrived at the start of the 1980s when it first colonised the Newhaven area of Sussex.

It has spread "as far as North Yorkshire and the Lake District", although it is further south that the most severe warnings are now being heard.

Mr Grimwood's team of three experts in Ipswich are currently dealing with 25 nests a day.

He said the wasps are coming out because they have been stirred from their hibernation by the hot and humid weather of the past few days.

The fear is now that if the peak wasp period of August is warm that this will produce ever-greater numbers for the pest control people to deal with.

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