About four years or so ago, a willow structure was installed on the grounds of the school beside which the vegetable patch is now situated. For the most part it has flourished in that area and has become a favourite with both the staff and children, offering a quiet place for a child and their friends to sit if, for example, they are carrying an injury which precludes them from joining in the rough and tumble of the playground. It has also been used as an outdoor class room.
Unfortunately, as can be seen from these pictures, it is rather high maintenance and needs regular pruning/sculpting to maintain its’ shape but this falls well outside the scope of my capabilities.
Back at the start of the summer break, I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of wasps hovering around the structure – hard to miss when you’re picking beans just a foot away. I scouted around the Willow looking for signs of a nest but I couldn’t see one and so decided to keep a watching brief and I also stopped bringing the Mudlets with me to help, as there were just too many wasps about.
As the weeks progressed and the warm, sunny weather lingered, the numbers grew and I was becoming more and more convinced that there had to be a nest either in or near to the structure but I couldn’t locate one. Then one day in mid-August I stopped and watched the wasps for a while to see if I could finally determine where the nest was, as I was convinced that there could be no other reason for that number of wasps to be in one place. We were talking hundreds of wasps not just tens of them and at one point I counted a dozen wasps at the base of each willow stem (of which there must be between 30 and 40 of them, if not more), plus more flying amongst the higher branches.
This was not good! As well as being right beside the vegetable patch, the Willow is also 10 foot from the main reception door and less than 5 foot from the door of one of the classrooms!
After a few minutes observation, I thought I had identified where the nest was, as I watched wasp after wasp disappear into a clump of grass/weeds at the base of the stem closest to the classroom door.
Really concerned, I called the Head Teacher who arranged for pest control to come out and deal with the problem. A couple of days later, the pest control guy turned up and I met him at the school and showed him the problem. Like me he thought I had found the problem and so suited up. I moved as far away as I could get because I figured there was about to be several hundred angry wasps flying around. A few seconds later and Mr Pest Control came back looking perplexed.
“It isn’t a nest,” he said, “They’re just foraging on the sap from the Willow.”
It turns out that wasps will happily travel to up to 5 miles from their nest to find food and if they find a good source of food, they let off a hormone which tells every other wasp in the area where to find the food! Great!
That said, the sheer number of wasps was a concern to both of us, especially in light of their proximity to the school building, not to mention the playground. Nevertheless there wasn’t much he could do that day because the use of enough pesticide to deal with the problem would be very expensive and there was a chance that the wasps would move on in their own time, if left alone. So between us we decided that I would continue to keep an eye on the situation and if they hadn’t left by the start of the week when school was due to reopen, we would have to call him back.
After a quick word with the Head Teacher, it was decided that we would make a decision the Monday before school started and so when I went to water the poly tunnel on Sunday (31st August) I evaluated the situation and realised that the wasps hadn’t moved on. In fact if anything it would appear that we had more wasps than ever before.
So the pest control man has been called back and will be applying a pesticide spray to the Willow structure which will hopefully sort the problem out and I guess that that part of the school grounds will be out of bounds for a while, then finally the groundsmen can get in and start trimming back the new growth, a job that they have been a bit reluctant to do …. and I can’t say that I blame them!