Midges are perhaps the most annoying pest in Scotland and I don’t think many walkers would disagree.
“The walk was wonderful apart from the midges…” I think everyone has heard that reply when asking a friend how their latest trip went.
The flying little hooligans can turn a pleasant walk in the countryside into something straight from a horror film if you are unprepared.
What is a midge?
A midge is a tiny flying insect which have a body of around 1mm long and have a wingspan of 2-3mm. There are estimated to be nearly 40 different species of midges in Scotland but thankfully for us not all of them are of the biting variety.
The female midge is the one responsible for the horrible itching bites as they require blood to mature the eggs they carry. The non-biting males feed on nectar and other natural sugars found in plants.
We reviewed an excellent book “Midges in Scotland” by George Hendry which offers an interesting insight to the insects and some of the surprising effects they have on Scotland and is well worth reading if you want to understand more about them.
When and where?
The midge season typically begins in May and runs through to mid September. It has been estimated that there will be around 21 billion female midges in the Highlands and Islands alone this year (2017) with numbers in other areas being higher than previous years as well thanks to the mild winter.
Midges are often thought to be a problem unique to Scotland but that is untrue as they can be found in many Northern areas of England and Wales and, thanks climate change, they seem to be spreading even further South and East each year.
Areas such as the Highlands and Western Scotland suffer the worst when compared to the rest of the country but Fife does get it’s fair share as well. They tend to dwell in damp and humid areas such as boggy wetlands, under dense forest canopies and areas with thick scrub and foliage and they are most active in the sunrise and sunset periods.
You can find out which areas are affected by visiting the “Midge Forecast” service which provides a overview of which areas are likely to be suffering from high numbers of midges.
What attracts them?
Midges may seem to be attracted to absolutely everything but surprisingly they are actually a little more discerning. They are drawn towards the odours that our bodies naturally produce along with the carbon dioxide that we expel through breathing.
Artificial substances such as perfumes, aftershaves, deodorants and body sprays are also often a strong attraction for the midges.
Some people naturally attract more midges than others and there are all kinds of theories why this may be and there are numerous research projects underway which are looking to find some definite answers.
If you do get bitten by midges try and avoid scratching the bite (easier said than done!), clean the bite and then apply a anti-hestimine cream. You can get more advice on treating insect bites by visiting the NHS advice page on bites – http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Bites-insect/Pages/Treatment.aspx
How can I avoid them?
The obvious way to avoid them is to not go into areas where they may be but really in many areas of Scotland this would leave you locked up inside which is no fun. There are a few simple things you can do to make a trek into midge country less irritating.
Make sure you cover up any exposed skin – long sleeve shirts, full length trousers, hats, midge head nets (see our review of Trespass head net) and light weight gloves are all good ideas.
Avoid known midge areas – boggy wetlands, under dense forest canopies and areas with thick foliage are best avoided on humid days especially.
Apply some insect repellent – sounds common sense but many people forget about applying a repellent before going out on a walk. Always follow the manufacturers instructions before you apply a repellent.
Make sure any food stuff is kept sealed – keeping your snack in an air tight bag or box is a good way of preventing midges (or any other insects) from getting a whiff of the goodies you have in your pack.
The Walk Fife team have tested a number of different midge repellents and we have posted reviews of the ones we had the most success with while walking in both around Fife and through the glens and hills of the Highlands.
Jungle Formula Maximum Repellent – Read our review
Life Systems Midge and Mosquito Repellent Spray – Read our review
Smidge – Read our review
As walkers we have to accept that midges are always going to be a pest but if you take precautions these little winged devils shouldn’t spoil your day. If you have any suggestions on how to avoid being bitten by midges that you would like to share with others you can do so by leaving a comment below.