Midge Watch: Calling all Volunteers Posted on 26 May 08:55

Dundee-based APS Biocontrol Limited has been awarded a grant from the UK’s Innovation agency, Innovate UK to carry out a feasibility study aimed at developing a new level of innovation for its highly successful Scottish Midge Forecast.

The online midge forecast is now in its 11th year, providing people with daily information about the likely intensity of biting midge activity in any part of Scotland. The site has over 50,000 visitors a year, including people planning their outdoor leisure activities, as well as businesses such as forestry where people work outside.  In particular, it has proved a popular tool for international visitors to Scotland in preparation for their visits.  There is also an accompanying iPhone app for visitors on the move.

Innovate UK’s funding will be used to address issues of cost and reporting time in the current midge forecast by establishing a large, low-cost network of biological data collection, together with the the application of imaging algorithms to produce real-time mapping of insect activity. The technology innovation will have applications in enhancing the visitor experience in an area where tourism contributes significantly to the economy, in addition to being a prototype system for subsequent development of a monitoring/first alert system for important midge-transmitted diseases of livestock, which are considered to be increasing and realistic threats to the UK. These include bluetongue virus and Schmallenberg virus.  The proposed innovation would be the first real-time reporting system for a non-crop pest, with applications on both a UK and international scale.

Dr Alison Blackwell, Founder and Director of APS Biocontrol explains “the current Midge Forecast combines current and historical biting midge population data with weather forecast information to provide 5-day forecasts for key midge hot spots across Scotland.  However, we know that midge populations can vary significantly over a very localised scale and this new innovation should help provide a clearer picture of what is happening on a day-to-day basis and ultimately, improve the forecast outputs to allow an enhanced visitor experience”. 

The company is seeking help from the public in collecting data and would like to hear from anyone across Scotland who would like to become a Midge Watcher for the season.  Each would be provided with its own Midge Watch Kit and be asked to send data back on a regular basis between June and August.  They would like to have Midge Watchers from a wide range of habitats, from north-to-south and east-to-west of the country. “Ideally we would like to involve a mix of areas, including those popular with tourists and also, we are keen to hear from the farming community given the potential impact of biting midges on livestock”, adds Dr Blackwell. Interested individuals should email midgewatch@apsbiocontrol.com  for further information.