Asian hornets, known for killing and consuming native bees, have been observed in the UK in record numbers. Since their initial sighting in 2016, there have been 39 hornets and nests reported, with 16 sightings this year alone. This marks a significant increase compared to only two sightings in 2022 and 2021. Most of the sightings occurred in Kent, with 12 reported there, along with a few in Dorset and one hornet captured in Newcastle upon Tyne.
These hornets have wreaked havoc in France, where they have decimated honeybee populations. They prey on bees by ambushing them as they enter and exit their hives, dismembering the smaller insects and feeding them to their young. The Asian hornets initially arrived in Europe in 2004, likely transported accidentally through cargo from Asia. They quickly spread across western Europe and have now reached Britain, possibly through similar means.
Once established in an area, it becomes nearly impossible to eradicate Asian hornets. To counter this threat, the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has launched an eradication campaign. It involves the destruction of nests and capture of individual hornets. Prof Juliet Osborne from the University of Exeter explains that this year has seen a notable increase in Asian hornet nest discoveries in the south-east of England. The species has been rapidly spreading throughout Europe, posing a threat not only to honeybee colonies but also to other wild species.
Efforts are underway to combat the spread of these hornets. Researchers have developed a radio-tracking method to trace hornets back to their nests, aiding in control efforts. Additionally, they are working on an automated monitor that uses artificial intelligence to detect and identify Asian hornets, making monitoring their spread more efficient.
Defra’s chief plant and bee health officer, Nicola Spence, emphasizes the importance of early reporting to swiftly address potential Asian hornet sightings. While these hornets pose no greater risk to human health than other wasps and hornets, they can cause damage to honeybee colonies and other beneficial insects. Spence encourages vigilance in spotting and reporting Asian hornets through the dedicated app or online platform.
List of 2023 Asian hornet sightings:
– Folkestone, Kent: confirmed on August 11th.
– Folkestone, Kent: confirmed on August 10th.
– Maidstone, Kent: confirmed on August 7th, nest destroyed.
– Portland, Dorset: confirmed on August 7th, nest destroyed.
– Deal, Kent: confirmed on August 6th.
– Folkestone, Kent: confirmed on August 4th, nest destroyed.
– Portland, Dorset: confirmed on August 4th, nest destroyed.
– Whitstable, Kent: confirmed on August 3rd, nest destroyed.
– Deal, Kent: confirmed on August 2nd.
– Plymouth, Devon: confirmed on July 27th, two nests destroyed.
– Gravesend, Kent: confirmed on July 24th, nest destroyed.
– Shepherdswell, Kent: confirmed on July 5th, nest destroyed.
– Deal, Kent: confirmed on June 28th, nest destroyed.
– Canterbury, Kent: confirmed on May 31st, single hornet captured.
– Ashford, Kent: confirmed on May 23rd, single hornet captured.
– Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland: confirmed on April 11th, single hornet captured.