The Times August 16, 2006

A plague of flies descends to make village life hell
By Simon de Bruxelles

ENVIRONMENTAL health officers are baffled by a plague of flies which is making life a misery for the residents of two Wiltshire villages.

Swarms of house flies began invading homes in the picturesque villages of Collingbourne Ducis and Collingbourne Kingston on the edge of Salisbury Plain at the end of last month.

Residents claim that they have to sweep up piles of dead flies every morning. Local shops have sold out of fly spray and fly paper. The villages also suffered invasions of house flies in 2001 and 2003, but this summer is said to be the worst.

Villagers blame muck- spreading by local farmers, but environmental health officers say that this has been ruled out as a cause. They believe that the invasion is more likely to have been prompted by the recent weather conditions.

Peter Siggers, 71, and his wife Joy, 65, have lived in Collingbourne Ducis for 24 years. They say that they have woken in the morning to find more than 500 flies in their kitchen.

Another resident, Tony Still, 73, a retired police officer and a member of the district council, said: “It’s just terrible. There are millions of flies everywhere and all you can see is black. They crawl over everything, get into the milk and the fridge, which is so unhygienic.”

The infested area, ten miles south of Marlborough, covers about four square miles and is surrounded by farmland.

The dominant species in the invasion is the common house- fly, Musca domestica, which breeds in animal waste. Villagers blame the spread of chicken manure on neighbouring fields.

Roy King, 50, and Suzanne Darbinson, 43, who bought the Barleycorn Inn in Collingbourne Kingston recently, said that they had bought fly traps and dozens of cans of fly spray to keep the swarms at bay.

Mr King said: “Obviously it’s particularly difficult because we are serving food. Although the regular trade understand, it’s not very nice for passing customers.

“We’ve spent a fortune on keeping the pub a fly-free zone with new-fangled fly traps outside, and we’ve bought up every available can of fly spray in Wiltshire. For the council to say there’s nothing they can do is just not good enough. They are hiding behind this theory that it’s a natural phenomenon, but everyone here has a different view.”

Rob Draper, the environmental health officer at Kennet District Council, said that he had found no connection with muck-spreading or with a nearby chicken farm.

He said: “Despite all this work, it has not been possible to identify a source of the problem either natural or man-made. There is no evidence that farmers are responsible.

“If we knew there was a particular link with agriculture, we would work with the farmers to make sure everything was as good as it should be. When they spread manure, we always ask them to make sure it is ploughed in within 24 hours.”

Both this year and in 2003 the flies began swarming after wet weather was followed by abnormally warm conditions. Mr Draper said that he had found a newspaper cutting from 1862 in which a horse-rider complained of the large number of flies in Collingbourne Valley.

He added: “If it’s a natural phenomenon, then there is little anybody can do about it.”