I returned recently from my second visit to the north Italian lakeside town of Garda, beautifully situated on the eastern shore of the eponymous lake.
My wife shares my love of the area, its scenery, its climate, its people, its food and its wines. She also shares my dislike of a relatively recent arrival by the lakeside … the mosquito.
We have been going to Garda since 1986 and for many years we marvelled at how a town which enjoyed a lakeside setting and a pleasantly warm climate remained almost entirely free of biting and stinging insects. How wonderful it was to share the town’s vibrant café society on a balmy evening, to walk by the water’s edge, to sit and watch the moon rise, perfectly reflected in the still waters of Lake Garda, or to sit in the hotel’s well-tended and extensive gardens enjoying a late-night drink and never to be bitten by some offensive insect apparently bearing a grudge against all humanity. Alas, this is no longer the case. Much of Europe has been invaded by several species of human-biting mosquitos; and the north of Italy is one of the many areas these pests have found decidedly attractive.
It seems that the international tyre business is being held responsible for the majority of these unwelcome immigrants for, as is well-known, mosquitos breed in stagnant water and can reproduce very happily in very small amounts of the stuff. Rainwater in tyres is a much sought-after mosquito maternity unit; and the international trade in tyres, allied to the fact that the eggs of the mosquitos can survive long periods of drought before being revived by rain or other moisture, has led to the arrival of a number of invasive species. These invaders also enjoy travelling around the world in, and on, exotic plants; and the thriving international plant trade is unwittingly helping the spread of these pests. Both means of transport are favoured by possibly the most unpleasant of the several wandering species, the Asian tiger mosquito, which can transmit diseases to humanity and is widespread in Italy, where it has become established and where the authorities have virtually abandoned any serious attempt to eliminate the pest but are, instead, concentrating on monitoring mosquito distribution and numbers and trying to keep these numbers in check.
Nearer home, the Scottish climate is not yet conducive to mosquitos, thank goodness. But 2014 has been something of a record year for its native counterpart, the West Highland midge. As is the case with mosquitos in Italy, authorities constantly monitor the distribution and numbers of this plague on humanity; and the numbers recorded in surveillance schemes this year are astonishing. A Dundee-based company, Advanced Pest Solutions Ltd., (APS) which focuses on the development and implementation of high-technology solutions to pest and disease problems associated with humans, animals and crops, traps midges and confirms the experiences of West Highland holidaymakers this September. APS Director Dr. Alison Blackwell had hoped, earlier this year, that the hot, dry ground conditions of July, in conjunction with the cold spring, would result in a substantial reduction in the midge population, which does best in unsettled weather with spells of rain and temperatures reaching highs of 17ºC or 18ºC. But recent reports from APS reveal increases in West Highland midge populations of between 90 per cent and 180 per cent … and this at the very time of year when midge larvae are settling in for the winter. The omens suggest that next spring will be mosquito-abundant and that, given the right climatic conditions, 2015 could see more midges than we have had this year. But, for me, 2014 goes down as the year of the mosquito and the midge, having been well-bitten in Garda by the former and in Fort William by the latter!