I remember my Dad incinerating wasps with the ‘jerrycan’, gingerly pouring petrol into the mouth of a nest, stuffing in tubes of newspaper and setting it alight. Back in those days this was probably bona fide military surplus. Then he upgraded to a paraffin powered flamethrower, designed for weed control. With a flame of 3 feet, splayed out by a hood at the front, the wasps stood little chance as he advanced.
Roll on 50 years and I’ve developed into a bit of a softie, referring to weeds as wild flowers and unlikely to kill or poison anything. When I saw the beautifully formed nest just above our front door I was thrilled – busy wasps welding wood pulp and saliva into layers of a paper-like semisphere. The hole in the middle looked a bit like a nipple on an ever expanding breast.
My inclination was to leave it be, until the colony died out in the winter and the queen moved on, but this was midsummer and alarm bells were sounding. They couldn’t have chosen a more threatening site, directly above the front door, where people pull on the bell and visitors are greeted.
It doubled in size in the space of a week. One of the pest control websites warned that ‘by the time September comes the nest can be as large as a small armchair with 10,000 wasps using it’!
During summer the wasps are busy chasing food and rearing the young but come autumn, their life’s work complete, they retire and binge on fermenting fruit. The thought of aggressive, drunken wasps falling down the back of a shirt didn’t bear contemplation. A single sting to my forehead last year had sealed one eye for several days – children would run away from me.
Decision made, the killer product was researched and selected. An aerosol for amateur use, spraying a sticky foam 3 metres and enveloping the nest. Thick jeans into wellies, belted jumper, gauntlets with elastic round the cuffs, foreign legion peaked cap with hood covered in fine mesh tucked into the zipped-up jumper – beads of sweat were forming, in part from the anticipation.
A few steps up the ladder at dusk and a blast of foam was all it took. Later, from an upstairs window, I watched a squadron of returning workers buzzing round the nest. Some blobs of foam fell to the ground but no wasps could get in and none could get out. I hate to think what it must have been like inside the nest.
What would St Francis have done, in this, the international year of biodiversity?
Huw - 27th June 2010