Tim gets a buzz from his work

28th April 2000 at 01:00
Tim Powles left school with a few CSEs but has learned on the job about pest

control, reports Martin Whittaker

PEST control officer Tim Powles admits he actually likes wasps.

"I have a lot of respect for them," he says. "If you don't treat every nest with caution, you'll be caught out."

He runs the pest control department at Stroud district council in Gloucestershire.

When summer comes, he will be working overtime as calls flood in about wasps' nests in houses, hedges and garden sheds.

Mr Powles and his team deal with everything from rats and mice to fleas and cockroaches but, in the late, summer wasps' nests make up 90 per cent of the work.

Surely few things can be quite as challenging to the human spirit as having to crawl into a tight loft space full of mad wasps.

You have to know them, he explains, and learn to understand their ways. This comes through hard experience. Once he was stung 14 times on his head, despite wearing protective clothing. "The pain was unbelievable," he says. "It felt as if my head had been put into a vice and crushed."

Mr Powles, aged 30, has been doing this job for nearly nine years. He started out as a mail boy with the council, with only a handful of CSEs from school.

When a vacancy for a pest control officer came up, he realised he'd found his niche. "I find it fascinating," he says. "It's just nature at work. Sometimes we come into conflict with it and, when we do, it needs sorting out."

His training included a week-long Royal Society of Health course in pest control at Bicton College of Agriculture in Devon.

The syllabus included rodent control, health and safety, accident prevention, first aid and legislation. The rest is down to on-the-job training.

Dealing with wasps can be life-threatening. "We had three near fatalities among mmbers of the public last year. One had a heart attack due to wasp stings. He'd been cutting a hedge and he put his shears through a nest.

"As soon as you start receiving multiple stings it can start causing a massive shock to the system. Then you're in trouble, just because of the amount of venom they pump into you."

There are, he says, many tricks of the trade. He says you have to locate the nest, find the entrance and approach with caution. You have to watch it from a safe distance, watch their flight paths. Otherwise you could have wasps flying towards the back of your head.

"There are sentry wasps in the entrance and they react to movement. If they think someone's moving close to the nest, they'll come out and sting you just to make sure. If things go wrong, before you know it, they're all out of the nest and you're being stung. The hardest thing is not panicking when things do go bad. If you do, things will just get worse and worse. You have to step back and start taking a different view on it."

This ability to stay calm is an important part of the job. You also need to deal with people who may be hysterical.

He recalls one call-out where he went to the aid of a couple trapped under their duvet. Their bedroom was full of wasps after a nest had come crashing through their ceiling.

Mr Powles is keen to educate people about wasps. "Every time I do a wasps' nest, I find myself giving a talk on wasps and their life cycle, and their little habits.

"After you've treated the nests, you can take them out and break them open, and explain what the inside is like. I enjoy that side of the work. I get something out of it. I feel I have educated someone."

For more information, contact the British Pest Control Association, 3 James Court, Friar Gate, Derby, DE1 1BT, telephone 01332 294288.

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