Midges and Ticks in Scotland

Scottish Midges – How to avoid them!

For those of you planning a visit to Scotland in the Autumn, Winter or Spring you will be happy to know you almost certainly won’t get to encounter midges

FoScottish Midgesr those of you planning a summer holiday in Scotland, you will no doubt have heard about the dreaded Scottish Midge or Culicoides. Generally speaking, most tourist operators forget to mention minor things! like Midges, Mosquito’s and Ticks etc., but, by coming clean, we hope that “forewarned is forearmed” and that by telling you a bit about the midge’s habits and life cycle you will know how best to avoid midge attacks. Incidentally, I have never seen a mosquito here at Loch Ness!

The Midge’s reputation is, in our honest opinion, worse than their bite!  Just by taking a few simple precautions, your holiday or stay in Scotland will not be spoiled by them. The first time you encounter them you will probably just feel itchy, as the bites are not painful, just irritating, and they are so small you can hardly see them. Everyone has a different reaction to Midge bites – some hardly notice they have been bitten with not even so much as a red spot, whilst others have a reaction rather like a rash.

It is only the female midge which bites and of the thirty odd species of midge in Scotland, one in particular is responsible for most of the attacks on humans, Culicoides impunctatus.

They are not usually a bad problem in this area of Loch Ness, as it tends to be drier here than on the west coast. Yes, we do get some, but not as many as some other areas in Scotland and midge populations vary from year to year, mostly due to the weather conditions during the breeding season.

Normally we first start to notice midges in early June and they can be around right up to the end of October. There are exceptions to this but it is broadly true.

Midges Love …

Scottish MidgesTourists – especially unprepared ones!! They also like cool, shady, damp and calm conditions and are most active early morning and evenings. Wet summers help their breeding cycle, with a resulting increase in numbers. Armed with a little knowledge, you should be able to minimize the inconvenience to your holidays in Scotland and enjoy the “Great Scottish outdoors” relatively free of them. Below are a few tips and precautions you can take to avoid them altogether, or at least to minimize their nuisance factor.

Midges Hate …

  • The sun – midges tend to avoid direct strong sunlight.
  • Try to find a place in a breeze – it is surprising how little breeze is required to keep them away. Midges cannot keep up with you at normal walking pace.
  • As far as possible, try to avoid sitting down outside early morning and late evening. We realise this is just the time when you DO want to sit down and most times you will not be bothered by them, but once they find you, you will need to move to get rid of them.
  • You will not normally be pestered by midges whilst walking, so you will be able to take long midge free walks or participate in any active pastime at any time of day.
  • White or light clothing is also not to their liking, so try to avoid dark clothing at high pressure times, though this alone will not deter determined midges.
  • Midges do not attack you indoors, so if you find them becoming troublesome outside, you will be able to escape by sitting indoors, even with the doors and windows open. However, if the lights are on, you will probably need to close all windows and doors. For some reason, we have found that they only enter the house when the lights are on!  As it is daylight until nearly midnight in the Highlands during May, June and July you will have no need for lights anyway during the evenings.
  • When we want to be out during periods of high midge numbers we wear anti-midge hats which have mesh rather like bee keepers nets but small enough to keep out midges. There are hats and full suits available for men “Jackaroos” and women “Jillaroos” which are widely available at outdoor and sports shops in Inverness and the Highlands.

If you want to spend time fishing, bird watching, painting, etc or other sedate pastimes, and do not want to use chemical repellents, there is some excellent protective clothing on the market that we know from first hand experience are good and really do work. We use one called a Gillaroo its like a bush hat with fine mesh hanging from the brim that comes down to shoulder level to keep midges off your head and face, that’s where they irritate most of all! you can get all manner of anti Midge gear from an online shop called purpleturtle.co.uk

There are now commercially available machines which are very effective in attracting midges, and hence reducing their numbers around patios and outdoor sitting places, such as open air restaurants etc. They run on Calor gas and the midges are attracted to the machine which gives out a Bovine scent, apparently highly desirable to a Midge. Some self catering cottage owners in high risk areas are now using these machines in a bid to help you enjoy the outdoor life even during the height of the midge season.

To update the above, we have this year seen how effective these midge machines are and we have sat in high midge population area completely free of midges. We have not invested in one because we are not in a problem area but it is a good idea when booking accommodation to ask if these calor gas driven midge machines are in use – it could make a difference to your holiday.

If all these precautions fail to work, or you cannot avoid high risk situations, then it is time to get out the repellent. We have found Boots Midge repellent gel to be excellent and has a lasting effect though it is a bit greasy. There are other equally effective products on the market. For those of you that are reluctant to use chemical repellents you could try Herbal repellent http://www.stopbite.com made with Bog Myrtle, (a plant which grows readily in the Scottish Highlands) and is not tested on animals -we have personally tried this product but didn’t find it very effective, certainly not as good as some other non organic products.

Smidge is a relatively new product on the market which claims to be the number one anti Midge product on the market, effective at repelling midges and other beasties. It comes in the form of a lotion, is family friendly and has received good press.

Some years ago, we came across a product that some locals have been using for years – we tried it and it is an excellent midge repellant and it is actually nice to use on your skin. It must be the best kept secret in the fight against midges. The product is called, Skin So Soft – dry oil body spray. It is produced by Avon and its use against midges was, it seems, a complete accident! It is not marketed as a midge repellent but as a beauty product. Yes – it has a feminine aroma but that does not deter the male forestry workers nor the British Army from using it ! Have a look on their website www.avon.uk.com

I also find that ubiquitous tea tree oil or cream is an effective repellent agains midges, and it calms itchy bites well too.

So come on! No need to spend any time at all worrying about midges – you now know how to beat them, or should I say, live with them. Here’s to midge free days in the Scottish hills!

Ticks and Pets

We are sometimes approached by distressed dog owners because Rover has picked up a tick or two after rolling about in the heather. This is more often during the summer when ticks sit on the tops of plants and grass waiting for Rover and his chums to come along. ( but more likely they would prefer venison ) There is a simple tool available from most vets and pet shops which makes removing Ticks a breeze – they operate like tweezers in reverse in that you squeeze them and they open.

We would advise you as dog owners coming to the Highlands with your dogs, to visit the vet before you leave home, to get them treated with Frontline tick repellent. We use it on our own dogs regularly and it is simple to apply –  just pour the drops of Frontline on to the skin at the back of the dogs neck to keep them totally free of ticks for one month and fleas for up to two months. You can then spend your holiday romping through forest and glen without any nasty surprises when you get home!