AN entire row of historic cottages is being slowly destroyed by tiny burrowing bees.

Hundreds of Mason bees have been tunnelling into the walls of the 18th century tanners' cottages in Wantage.

Now a master builder has warned that a labyrinth of bee larvae tunnels in the masonry is threatening the fabric of the listed buildings.

Roger Humphries, who looks after the cottages in Priory Road on behalf of the owner, Mrs Gundel Daniel, has written to Vale of White Horse District Council saying it is 'imperative' the insidious insects be banished from the row of as soon as possible.

He urged the council to to give him planning permission to 'carry out all necessary works to eradicate and prevent further colonisation'.

Mr Humphries, who lives in one of the cottages himself, warned planning officers: "To varying degrees of severity, all the walls have been subjected to the attention of nesting masonry bees resulting in open excavation and tunnelling of the mortar joints.

"A reasonable assumption would be that many hundreds of bee larvae now occupy the extensive cavities and labyrinth of tunnels formed within the structure.

"It is now imperative that that this worsening situation is arrested in the most timely and aesthetically acceptable manner."

Addressing the question of whether the larvae in the walls could simply be removed, Mr Humphries said it would be practically impossible.

He told the officers: "There appears to be no practical means of destroying the dormant larvae that occupy the nest site currently.

"The saturation of the walls with insecticide could prove quite ineffectual and not be without its own inherent health and safety considerations.

"It is generally considered that once a proper barrier to the ingress and egress of these insects is installed the larvae will die and present no further risk to the fabric."

His solution, therefore, is to 'rake out' the bee-infested mortar in all walls and chimney stacks and re-point the walls in lime mortar.

Members of public can see Mr Humphries' full application at using reference number P17/V3101/LB

The Vale has said it will give Mr Humphries an answer by January 16.

The even-numbered homes from 22 to 36 Priory Road were Grade II listed in 1985.

The cottages were built in the late 1700s to house workers in the Wantage tanning (leather-making) industry, and the road itself was once called Tanner Street.