I’ve been getting myself all worked up about wasps. Thankfully I’ve never had a bad experience with them; I was stung once, on the face, when I didn’t realise what was tickling me and I unwittingly rubbed it against my skin. It was a big shock and hurt like hell, but I got over it quickly and if I was a wasp I’m sure I’d have done the same in the circumstances.
I’d rather keep on-side with these beautiful, fascinating little creatures and I’m always saving them from drowning in the bird bath by fishing them out gently on a leaf. In return, they’ve kindly decided to nest under the gutter of our single storey kitchen, right next to our back door.
But it's not their close proximity which is getting to me. I’ve learned so much about them since they decided to take residence here. For instance, I hadn’t realised before that the first male wasps you see in the Summer – the drones – don’t even have stings. Neither do they feed or hunt close to their nest for fear of attracting predators, so they fly off over the rooftops and far beyond to do so. And neither have they been feeding on the contents of picnic boxes and orange juice all these weeks so far, instead they do their bit for the environment by clearing gardens and agricultural fields of pests like caterpillars and greenfly; thus they, like all insects, are an incredibly important part of the food-chain – truly beneficial pest-controllers themselves. So really the wasps and me are co-habiting very peacefully. Their flight path crosses my daily commuting route to my Shedio – a journey of a few steps I make many times a day - we bump into each other frequently, and neither of us comes to any harm. I’ll feel the soft touch of one against my face, my bare arms and shoulders, sometimes even in my hair, and then it flies off. They really aren’t in the least bit interested in me - far too busy.
What concerns me is that the way I think may be out of step with much of the rest of the world. I guess it's always felt a bit that way, so I’m used to it, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, when you find your views at odds with the mainstream. My tolerance of a wasp nest attached to my home possibly makes me appear weird, only one step removed from an old lady who keeps fifty-three cats in her one-bedroom house and lets them shit all over her furniture.
At least I’m not completely alone when it comes to giving positive PR to wasps, as well as other creepy, crawly, much-maligned creatures with more than two legs; I’m in the esteemed company of naturalists like Steve Backshall and Chris Packham (who famously let wasps lick jam off his young daughter’s face). I just don’t have their authority, confidence or charisma to convince others with a more sceptical view to adopt a similar approach. If only Steve or Chris lived next door (…I would never get any work done).
This would all be less worrying if it wasn't for the fact that the neighbouring house is let out to holiday-makers in the Summer. Couples come here to relax in the garden and enjoy the peacefulness of the countryside. I doubt they'd choose to stay right next to a wasp’s nest, one that's very close to their back door too; likewise I can't expect everyone to like it. Although I can write here like the ambassador for a wasp preservation society, I don’t have faith in myself articulating it in person to a disgruntled guest… my worry is that it’s only a matter of time before I’m confronted.
However, it’s also only a matter of time before the resident wasps all die off naturally, apart from a small number of individual fertilized queens who will depart to quietly hibernate over winter before forming new colonies elsewhere next year. They will leave an empty nest behind and I can block up the hole without harming a single one. Sorted – at least in my ideal world. The problem comes when the dying workers get a bit chippy as their lives come to an end, and seek sustenance from sweet things - the contents of picnic boxes and orange juice - which will make them act a little drunkenly. In theory these resident wasps are likely to do their final feeding well away from here, away from their nest, but I'm sure the presence of any tipsy wasps in the neighbour's garden will still be attributed to it. The flapping arms of panicky people will aggravate them and the risk of stinging becomes a reality and of course I understand the fear of a wasp sting and the concern about allergic reaction. Theoretically the best thing may be to leave them alone, adapt and tolerate them for this short period and soon all but the queens will be dead anyway, but that’s quite a difficult point to argue when faced with traditional fears and attitudes. It seems so much of the time that the human response to something we don't fully understand is to want to destroy it.
So any time now I won't be surprised if I'm asked to “deal with” the wasps - it’s the thought of having to deal with dealing with them which is making me anxious. I just hope we can all make it through until the last, hazy, natural, dying days of both Summer and wasps, in peace.