A NEW weapon in the war against midges has been unveiled by rail chiefs – the eucalyptus plant.
The pungent, lemon-scented shrubs are set to be planted at all west coast stations after an experiment showed they scared off the notorious pests.
Volunteer grdener Louis Wall was asked to tackle the midge menace at Barhill station on the Glasgow-Stranraer line in South Ayrshire.
The midge infestation at the station was so bad, according to Mr Wall, that the masses of insects honing in on the fluorescent lights caused them to stop working.
ScotRail had been forced to send engineers on a 100-mile round trip every fortnight to fix the damage and clear out the dead midges.
But when Mr Wall put six eucalyptus plants in a shelter at the station, the aroma was powerful enough to drive away the winged marauders.
The lemon smell wafting from the Eucalyptus citriodora had worked because it was concentrated in the confined space of the shelter.
Mr Wall, who was shortlisted in the outstanding voluntary contribution category at last year’s Community Rail Awards, said: “The midges went for the light fittings which caused failures.
“The plants have been very effective in stopping the midges.
“We used to get bitten a lot working in Barrhill but have not been bitten in the shelter this year since we planted the eucalyptus in May.”
He added: “I can’t see why others shouldn’t try planting eucalyptus lemon bush elsewhere.
“It obviously helps when an area is more enclosed, like in a shelter, as more of the lemon scent will remain in that area.”
The plants could help other midge-afflicted stations on routes to Oban and Mallaig, such as Helensburgh Upper which also has an open shelter.
According to Dr John McCormick, strategy officer with The Friends of the West Highland Lines, planting eucalyptus cannot be done too soon.
“Some of these stations are the midgiest in the world, which can drive people round the bend,” he said.
“The West Highland midge is even worse than those in the south-west – and there are certainly more of them.
“The plants would be a great idea if they worked.”
Midges are estimated to cost Scotland’s tourist industry around £286m a year as a direct result of visitors advising friends and relatives not to visit in July and August – when numbers of the insects are at their highest.
A spokesman for ScotRail said: “It’s an added bonus for our customers if the dreaded midge is being repelled by a plant.
“The volunteers are creating a more pleasant environment with their flowerbeds and plants, and we’re delighted if their efforts to brighten stations are midge-free.”