While enjoying a picnic or barbecue this summer, the observant among you may have noticed something was missing.
For the usual buzz of wasps around your sandwiches will probably have been absent.
Conservationists and pest controllers alike have noticed a remarkable lack of wasps this summer – and they are all worried.
Given the baking hot weather we experienced in June and July, and the bumper fruit harvest we are seeing at the moment, they would have expected wasps to be enjoying a glorious year.
But insect experts have noticed a distinct lack of wasps in our orchards and meadows, where they would be usually gorging on the fruits of early autumn.
None are entirely sure why the insects are having such a bad year – though all are agreed it is something to do with the topsy-turvy weather we have seen over the last few years.
Jon Curson, a senior ecologist at Natural England, said: ‘Wasps are cold-blooded creatures – they really need some heat to get going.
‘If you get just a few weeks of bad weather when the wasps are developing in the nest it will really hit them.’
Matthew Oates, wildlife specialist at the National Trust, thinks the problem may go all the way back to the miserable summer of 2012.
‘It is as though the wasps have vanished,’ he said.
‘They took a major hit in 2012 with that awful summer, then last year we had the coldest March on record and by the time things picked up for them in June or so it was just too late for them to recover.
‘This year we have had a good spring and summer overall and I would have expected them to recover.’
But he added: ‘There have been key points where it has been very bad.
‘The last week of April and the last week of May were cold, and then we have had a very cool wet August. It may be they were just hit at the wrong time.
‘And if that is the case, it means that wasps have been hit by the weather three years on the trot – which would explain why there are very few around.’
Most people do not notice wasps until late summer.
Earlier in the summer the worker wasps are out scouring the trees and bushes catching greenflies and aphids and bringing back the chewed remains to feed baby wasps in the nest.
In return, the tiny larvae supply them with sweet saliva, which gives them energy.
But by late August and September, when all the larvae have grown, the worker wasps need to turn to other sources of sugar.
They seek out fruit on the trees and at picnic sites, buzzing around cream teas and lemonades.
Mr Oates of the National Trust said: ‘It usually becomes an issue around National Trust tea rooms and tea gardens – but this year we have had a relatively low number of stings.’
Matt Shardlow, chief executive of conservation charity Buglife, said: ‘It has been a terrible year for wasps. I noticed one day in the woods last week that I had not seen a single wasp in the entire day. We have had a few bad spells of weather but it is very puzzling.’
Pest control companies have also noticed fewer call-outs.
Dean Godsell, managing director of KPN Wast Nest Removal said: ‘Not only are there low numbers this year, but the wasps seem very unhealthy.
‘It is September and we are still coming across nests that are tiny – usually you would see 5,000 wasps in a nest, but we are regularly find nests with only 30 or 40 wasps.
‘I have been doing this for 25 years and I have never seen wasps so unhealthy, their colour is dull and they are also very small.’
Whatever the reason for their absence, wasps are not just a pest to picnickers, but play a vital role in the British ecosystem.
They help control pest numbers such as aphids and blackfly – helping gardeners and farmers alike