With over 20,000 different species of insect in the UK, it is important to know which ones can harm you and how best to deal with any potential bites or stings.


Ticks are tiny blood-sucking arachnids which can be found in areas of dense vegetation, such as long grass or bracken. They can attach themselves to you and feed on your blood by biting through your skin. Ticks are known to carry a variety of diseases. The most serious of these is Lyme disease, which can be transmitted through the bite of an infected sheep tick.

If you are planning to go walking in an area of dense vegetation, consider taking the following precautions:

  • Wear trousers and long-sleeved shirts and keep cuffs fastened and trousers tucked into socks.
  • Wear shoes or boots rather than open sandals.
  • Use insect repellent: DEET or Permethrin can protect against ticks for several hours.
  • If you find a tick, remove it quickly, preferably with a specially-designed tick removal tool. These are better than household tweezers as they avoid the risk of squashing the tick and releasing fluids into your skin. In an emergency you can use a thread of cotton looped around the tick’s mouthparts, which you then pull steadily upwards.
  • Dogs are also vulnerable to ticks: consult your vet for insect repellent or a tick collar.
  • After your walk, carefully brush all clothing and examine yourself for ticks. Pay special attention to their favourite feeding places: the backs of knees, around the groin, under the arms and, especially on small children, the hairline and scalp.

If part of the tick breaks off or you think any part of it may be left in your skin, wash the site thoroughly but don’t worry about digging with a needle as that may do more damage. Your body will deal with any embedded remains. Consult a doctor if the small area of redness gets worse. Further information on tick bites and Lyme disease can be found via the NHS website, or from the charity Lyme Disease Action.  

Mosquitoes, midges and gnats

Bites from mosquitoes, midges and gnats will often cause small itchy bumps on your skin.

There are many over-the-counter treatments available, which can be used to alleviate the itching. These include Benadryl tablets and antihistamine creams that can be directly applied to the bite. Tea tree oil can also be an effective anti-inflammatory.

Insect repellents containing DEET are good for discouraging most types of biting insect and are a good idea if you’re walking in areas where midges are likely to be a particular problem.


Horsefly bites often result in a painful welt which can itch for a few days. Horseflies cut the skin when they bite, rather than piercing it like a mosquito. Make sure you keep the bite clean while it heals in order to prevent infection.

Bees, Wasps and Hornets

Being stung by a wasp or hornet can be painful and cause unpleasant swelling that should go down within a few hours.

If you are stung by a bee then the stinger may remain in your skin. The safest way to remove it is by scraping something hard, like a credit card, over the skin. Do not attempt to pinch it out as this can squeeze more venom into your skin.