Invasive Asian hornets that kill up to 50 bees a day spotted across England

Beekeepers and DEFRA are asking the public to report sightings of the invasive Asian hornet, which is a massive threat for British pollinators.

A devastating hornet that can kill up to 50 bees a day has been repeatedly spotted across the country in the past few months.

Staff at Exmoor National Park are looking into accounts that the non-native species — which arrived in France from China in 2004 and was first recorded in the UK in September 2016 — has been seen near Minehead, with another sighting confirmed at Tamworth, in Staffordshire, last week. Earlier this year, the yellow-legged insect was detected in Hampshire.

Now, beekeepers, alongside DEFRA, are asking the public to keep an eye on the hornets, reporting any sighting to the National Bee Unit.

Most active in August and September, Asian hornets are highly aggressive predators and pose a massive threat to Britain’s native pollinators.

These deadly killers hover by hives, pouncing on honeybees as they zip in and out. They can eat up to 50 bees a day, according to the Oswestry Beekeepers Association and, with hornet’s nests containing up to 6,000 workers and up to 350 queens, they can destroy an entire bee colony in a matter of hours.

‘There is a real risk to our own native honeybee and European hornet if these alien species are allowed to take hold,’ says Ali Hawkins, a Wildlife Conservation Officer at Exmoor National Park.

‘Given the many pressures on our precious pollinators, including climate change, habitat destruction and pesticide use, it’s vital we do all we can to support them by reporting sightings.’

To prevent the invasive species becoming established in Britain, British beekeepers’ associations have set up several Asian Hornet Action Teams, which disseminate information, assist bee inspectors and help track the insects. Once a hornet is recorded, the National Bee Unit and the Animal and Plant Health Agency step in to locate and destroy nests.

However, effective eradication is only possible if sightings are reported promptly and that’s why beekeepers and DEFRA are asking for help from the public.

‘By ensuring we are alerted to possible sightings as early as possible, we can take swift and effective action to stamp out the threat posed by Asian hornets,’ says DEFRA’s chief plant health officer, Nicola Spence.

The insects are relatively easy to identify because they have large heads, very dark bodies and distinctive, yellow-tipped legs. People who think they may have spotted a hornet should never disturb or remove an active nest, as this could be dangerous. Instead, they should try and photograph the insect and report the sighting either via the dedicated Asian Hornet Watch App, online at www.nonnativespecies.org or via email to alertnonnative@ceh.ac.uk.

‘A good quality photo gives the best chance of tracking down the nest to prevent further invasions,’ says Ms Hawkins.

‘Vigilance is a cornerstone of our defence strategy,’ adds Anne Pike, chair of the Somerset Beekeepers’ Association. ‘We want to mobilise the county to be on the lookout throughout September and October to protect the environment we treasure so much.’