Midge army heads south from Scotland

THEY FAMOUSLY attacked Queen Victoria during a Highland picnic. More recently they have plagued tourists in Scotland, where it is said, if you kill one, 10,000 come to the wake. At their worst, they can leave you hospitalised. But at least they have stayed north of Hadrian's Wall.

Now, however, the whole of Britain is poised to discover the misery of being attacked by swarms of vicious flying insects capable of delivering multiple bites in minutes. The Scottish midge - the UK's answer to the mosquito - has descended on England. Sightings have been recorded as far south as London, Devon and Cornwall.

"A succession of damp springs providing ideal conditions for breeding means midges are much more prevalent in England this year," said George Hendry, a research scientist at Dundee University and author of Midges of Scotland. "I have had reports from colleagues in the south, who have seen midges in Wales and the west side of England down as far as Cornwall. Dorset seems to have a problem too."

Dr Andrew Evans, an entymologist at the Scottish Agricultural College in Edinburgh said: "More and more are being found further south this year because of the wet weather last summer and the fact the climate is getting milder.

"Midges spend the winter in boggy soils of which there are plenty in the west of Scotland and some in England. You would expect frost and drying off to kill them. But a warmer climate means many more have survived."

It is the female of culicoides impunctatus that loves the taste of blood (the male does not bite) and despite being only one millimetre long, with a life-span on the wing of perhaps a month, her impact has prompted many initiatives in Scotland.

A businesswoman and inventor, Libby Weir-Breen, thinks she has the answer - a bite-proof jacket. In the Perthshire town of Comrie, Ms Weir- Breen has put on sale "Bugwear", designed to stop the most intrepid midge. "It is noticeable," she said, "how many orders we are getting this year from England." The jacket comes with a hood and mesh face mask.