Since moving to a new house in Newbury we are the proud custodians of two sheds. The one nearest the house is ridiculously posh as sheds go: dry, clean and spacious with a glass-walled summer house section at one end. That part in particular is serving us well as a reading den or comfortable moth-trap hut. At the far end of our garden is a second, more dilapidated shed. When we first moved in, we noticed wasps entering and exiting at the edge of the ill-fitting doors. In the hot August sunshine they appeared as rows of glowing yellow dots, each following an identical track in and out as though slung along a wire. An active nest for sure: we let them be.
Whilst comings and goings from the shed have since tailed off, today Rebecca pointed out shallow scrapes in the wood all over the doors. Soon afterwards we caught one of the culprits in the act; wasps have been scraping the surface with their mandibles to harvest wood pulp for nest building. Elsewhere in the garden where ivy is flowering, wasps have been ever-present of late, plundering a rich bounty of nectar. The sheer mass of social wasps active in autumn makes it hard to believe that in a few weeks they’ll mostly be gone, leaving it to a handful of queens to see out the winter and found new citadels next year.
Yesterday I was leading nature walks on the Reading University campus, an official part of the Open Day. A genuine highlight was finding the entrance to two separate wasp nests, both small holes in the ground from which a constant stream of workers was emerging. I hope that seeing wasps as part of a dynamic colony (that didn’t threaten us!) helped our guests to appreciate them as interesting animals worthy of our attention and admiration. These were easy-to-reach people, however, who voluntarily decided to go on a nature walk. Figuring out how to win friends for wasps among ‘ordinary’ people who see them as a seasonal nuisance, at best, is a trickier proposition.