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Camping guide to beating the bugs

Night, night, sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite. I recall my mum telling me that, not that I ever suffered nips from the tiny blighters. However, I can recall one day in June a few years back descending Ben Nevis, after summiting Scotland’s highest mountain as part of the Three Peaks Challenge. Back at base, our driver had prepared spaghetti. As I collected my plate, a horde of midges swarmed all over it… and me. We dived for cover, and for the next half-an-hour we were persistently swatting away those that had invaded the vehicle. It was not my first encounter with midges, but it was certainly one of the worst I have had to endure.

As campers, we occasionally have to face inclement weather. And we will sometimes have our share of biting bugs of various sizes and viciousness, including ticks, blackflies, mosquitoes and the dreaded Scottish midge. These insects thrive on blood and some spread some pretty nasty diseases.

Unlike the above, horseflies have mandibles that rip or cut the flesh. Also known as a gadfly, you will hear one heading your way first, as they are about the noisiest fly around. An adult feeds on nectar and sometimes pollen. Like many bloodthirsty insects it is the female that does the damage, as it requires a blood meal in order to reproduce.
The bite from a larger specimen is extremely painful. It will become itchy, and sometimes causing a large swelling. The horsefly may also bite more than once. And do not think that wearing a sweater will help, because it can go through that, too.

As some of you will know from past experience, the main risk from biting insects is the skin irritation caused by the bites. For, when an insect bites, it injects saliva to ensure the blood flows without clotting. It is our immune system responding to this saliva that causes the irritation. Also, you will find that insects might go for you, but not your partner. It all depends on our different levels of sensitivity to bites.

Wasps, hornets, honeybees and bumblebees are another matter entirely, as they are found throughout the UK. It is easy enough to suggest that, should one land on you, rather than attempt to swat it away, the best thing to do is wait for it to fly off. The tendency, of course, is to panic and jump around like a lunatic and, as a result, many readers may well have encountered their painful sting.

Bees in flightSo, you have moved away from the campsite; away from the midges, wasps, bees and horseflies, and made for the beach. Paddling in the sea, you are stung by a jellyfish. Not having a very good day, are we! Luckily, our waters have few dangerous marine species but campers around the UK coast may want to wear sandals when paddling in the sea if they want to avoid the poisonous spines of the Weaver fish. Unwary bathers may stand on one as it lays half buried in shallow water. The dorsal spine injects poison and can break off in the foot. The pain is described as excruciating.

However, instances of bad experiences with our British stinging and biting denizens are rare – although midges are a problem at certain times of the year. Nettles are probably the closest you’ll get to an uncomfortable encounter in the great outdoors. Even then, quick first aid will solve the problem.

Better to take action to avoid risks by using deterrents like repellents and proper clothing.

There are tales that eating Marmite and garlic will discourage the attentions of biting insects – along with the rest of the campsite. However, most of us rely on sprays and roll-on lotions as a barrier against being bitten. There are certainly plenty on the market to choose from, but the most successful ones mask the CO2 and lactose emissions given off by mammals, as well as altering the skin’s fingerprint to confuse any insect that does happen to land on you.

Some campers swear by Avon’s So-Soft, or preparations using Bog Myrtle and citronella oil (also found in lantern oil and candles for effective area control – there are mixed views on ultrasonic devices). DEET is very effective but the aggressive chemical has been declared a health hazard. Neem oil has had tremendous success, but Saltidin is making waves as the new panacea against bloodsuckers.

Wasps hunt by eye so the use of a false wasp nest causes confusion and they scarper rather than face an unfriendly rival colony. Check out the Waspinator from waspinator.co.uk
Wear sandals when paddling to avoid things like Weaver fish and broken glass. Ranges of insect repelling clothes are also available from the likes of Craghoppers – it’s NosiLife Long Sleeve Shirt won our recent Camping Award clothing category.


Most bites and stings can be easily treated – check out nhs.uk for advice. But in rare instances it is wise to seek out medical attention – especially if there is a risk of shock or disease. The following is a guide only

Most midge, mosquito, or gnat bites clear up within a couple of days without treatment. In cases where there is no allergic reaction, a cold compress, such as a cold flannel or ice pack, can be used to ease any pain and inflammation.

Steroid creams, such as hydrocortisone, or antihistamines (cream or tablets) are available over-the-counter at pharmacies and will help to ease any itchiness and inflammation.
Relief from itching can also be obtained with the use of a peizo-quartz pulse from one of the devices like the Life Systems Bite Relief – Click.

If bitten by a tick, you should remove it as soon as possible to reduce the risk of getting a tick borne infection, such as Lyme disease (see complications section). Grab the tick as close to the skin as you can, and gently pull straight up until all parts are removed. Do not twist or jerk the tick as you are removing it, as this may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in your skin. Using petroleum jelly, alcohol, or a lit match to remove a tick does not work.

Once the tick has been removed, wash your hands with soap and water. Clean the tick bite with soap and water, apply ice to reduce any swelling and use an antiseptic. Do not scratch the bite because this will cause further swelling and increase the chance of infection. Most tick bites will heal within three weeks. But, see your GP if you develop a rash around your armpit, groin and thighs, or get a flu-like illness after being bitten by a tick. You may need antibiotics to prevent Lyme's disease. For more information visit lymediseaseaction.org.uk

Snakebites are very rare and normally from adders. First Aid is confined to reassuring the patient and immobilizing the limb – do not apply bandages. Get the patient to hospital as soon as possible.

It is helpful to differentiate between a wasp and a bee sting, because allergy to bee stings is much less common than that of wasps. If you happen to be stung and you notice a poison sac, then a bee will be the culprit. A wasp sting is smooth rather than barbed, and is not left behind in the skin. If you suffer a bee sting, scrape the sting and poison sac away immediately, because the muscles around the sac will continue to pump venom into you.

A sting can normally be treated with a home or over-the-counter remedy. Consider running cold water on the affected area, then applying anti-histamine cream. Some would argue as to the benefits of vinegar. The suggested science is that the sting is alkaline and that vinegar as a mild, and readily available, acid may reduce pain by neutralising the pH. However, once you remove a dressing with vinegar applied, the pain has been known to return immediately.

A wasp sting is more likely to cause a systemic allergic reaction than a bee sting. If anaphylaxis is suspected, immediate medical treatment is required. Symptoms can include itchy bumps (hives) and/or redness spreading rapidly; swelling of the mouth, face, lips or throat; pallor; and nausea.

For most jellyfish stings, you can soak or rinse the area in vinegar, as the acetic acid disables the nematocysts (stinging cells). It is, however, unlikely that you will have a bottle to hand unless there is a fish and chip shop nearby. Try rinsing in seawater, or buy a jellyfish after-sting pain relief gel. Do not use fresh water, as this will cause the cells to continue to release their toxin. Neither should you rub the area. Once all the stinging cells are removed with tweezers of other object, you can apply ice to the skin to stop the venom spreading in the body. Although they can be quite painful, most jellyfish stings are minor and get better with home treatment.

The most effective treatment for a Weaver fish sting is to put the affected limb in water as hot as the victim can stand without causing scalding. The heat helps to breakdown the poison but it also increases blood flow to the sting causing natural cleaning and healing. The broken dorsal fin must be removed from the wound. Seek out the lifeguard or get medical attention to help.

If you happen to be travelling north of the border for your summer vacation, you can keep up to speed with the amount of pests around via the Scottish Midge Forecast, developed by Advanced Pest Solutions. The website (midgeforecast.co.uk) provides daily and weekly forecasts of midges across Scotland.

Advanced Pest Solutions Ltd (APS) focuses on the development and implementation of high-technology solutions to pest and disease problems associated with humans, animals and crops. The forecast, which is sponsored by the insect repellent active Saltidin, combines Google Maps with APS’s midge forecasting technology to help people plan their activities. Visit the website, and you can also gain access to the Midge Forecast shop, which features Saltidin-based EcoGuard Midge Repellent, amongst other products.

The Midge Forecast uses actual midge catch data recorded using Scottish-made midge traps and weather forecast data from the Meteogroup. The traps used by APS emit carbon dioxide to mimic the breath of large animals to attract midges. When the midges arrive at the device, they are sucked inside and trapped in a net. APS is able to forecast midge activity for any part of Scotland as far ahead as weather forecast data is available.

According to the Scottish Midge Forecast, it is estimated that in some parts of Scotland, one single hectare of land can host up to 50 million biting midges – the equivalent of ten midges for every man, woman and child in the country. As many of us can testify, the biggest problem is that in areas such as the Highlands, the midge season coincides with the tourist season.

It is easy to understand how midge menace costs the country millions every year, when a survey carried out by a team led by University of Edinburgh scientists indicated that the majority of tourists visiting Scotland for the first time, during the height of the midge season, were discouraged from returning to the country at that particular time of year. Furthermore, the study suggested that 86 per cent would warn their friends not to visit Scotland during the key summer months of July and August.

Neither is climate change helping the situation, as midges are increasing their range and extending their season, having been found in other parts of the UK, including the Lake District and North Wales.

I will leave you with one relatively comforting fact. Scotland hosts nearly 40 species of biting midge, but only five of these are thought to regularly feed on people. Fortunately, midges do not transmit any human diseases in the UK. The Highland midge, Culicoides impunctatus, is the most bloodthirsty, the species being responsible for most of the bites to people.
  • Insects are attracted by bright colours, perfumes and deodorants, so stick to camouflage greens or subdued colours
  • If you find yourself in a particularly heavily infested area, roll down your sleeves, wear a hat, and tuck your trousers into your socks
  • If you happen to be wearing a short-sleeved shirt or shorts, apply an insect repellent spray before exiting the tent
  • When sitting around the campfire at night, consider lighting a citronella candle
  • Mosquitoes enjoy breeding around still or stagnant water, so avoid these areas as much as possible
  • If you get stung, it often helps to use a cold compress on the bite. Take the ice from your partner’s gin and tonic and wrap it in a tea towel or similar cloth. Never place ice directly on skin
  • If you have anti-histamine cream with you, then use it
  • If in doubt about any insect bite, seek medical advice.
Read more top camping tips here.

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30/04/2013 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

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