Asian hornet likely established in UK, experts say | Invasive species

The Asian hornet is likely to have established itself in the UK, conservationists fear, as a record number of nests have been discovered.

There was one sharp rise sightings of invasive species in the UK this year; the previous two years had only two sightings each, while there were 22 confirmed so far in 2023. In total, there have been 45 sightings since 2016.

The vast majority of sightings took place Kent and some experts fear that the species has become established there. The government’s strategy is to locate and kill all the hornets and destroy all the nests to prevent them from overwintering and multiplying. Once installed, it is almost impossible to get rid of them.

Bumblebee conservation expert Dave Goulson, professor of biology at the University of Sussex, said he feared the hornets were likely to have established themselves in Kent.

A nest of Asian hornets
A nest of Asian hornets. Photography: imv/Getty Images

He told the Guardian: “It’s a little too early to say for sure, but the situation looks worrying, with a record nine nests found and destroyed this year so far. If even one nest escapes detection and reproduces, then it will likely become impossible to prevent it from becoming established.

Goulson said they would likely stay for good once established. “I think it’s inevitable that they will eventually establish themselves in the UK, and once here it’s hard to see how they could be eliminated. »

This would be terrible news for native bees, which the hornets dismember and eat. They thrived in France, where they caused concern about the number of insects they killed. They sit outside bee hives and capture bees as they enter and exit. They cut up small insects and feed their young with their thorax.

Goulson added: “The arrival of Asian hornets would pose a significant new threat to insect populations which are already very reduced due to the many other pressures they face, such as habitat loss, use of pesticides, etc. »

Matt Shardlow, chief executive of insect charity Buglife, agrees with Goulson, saying: “With four new Asian hornet nests detected last week and a strong group on the Kent coast, it seems likely that the species colonized England. The Asian hornet constitutes a risk for biodiversity; In particular, it can hunt a large number of solitary wild bee species.

“It is too early to abandon control efforts. The removal of nests has probably succeeded in slowing down its colonization, and the abundance of different wasps can be strongly influenced by the weather. So we can still hope that eradication efforts, perhaps with a little luck, can nip this colonization in the bud.

Julie Coleman, a trustee of the British Beekeepers Association, who lives in Kent, said the hornets may have already wintered in the area. “The fact that we seem to have a group around the coast in Kent, as well as Dorset, Plymouth, Weymouth and Hampshire, makes me think they are crossing paths in the wind. And there could have been a wintering nest in Kent that would have sent queens to hibernate in the fall.

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Asian hornets first arrived in Europe in 2004 when they were spotted in France, and are believed to have been accidentally transported by cargo from Asia. They quickly spread across Western Europe and crossed the English Channel to Britain, probably also by cargo ship, but they can also come by wind or under their own power.

Experts recently warned that lax post-Brexit trade rules could help the hornets colonize Britain. The EU has banned the import of potted plant soil from the UK since Brexit, in part because invasive species such as the Asian hornet can move undetected through the soil. However, the UK does not have reciprocal bans in place, meaning pest species from the continent could be transported into the ground.

Asian hornets are smaller than native hornets and Can be identified by their orange face, their yellow-tipped legs and their darker abdomen.

Nicola Spence, head of plant and bee health at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “Evidence from previous years suggests that the 13 Asian hornet nests discovered in the UK between 2016 and 2022 were separate incursions and there is nothing. to suggest that Asian hornets are established in the UK. We have seen no evidence that the Asian hornets discovered in Kent this year were produced by overwintering queens. We plan to conduct a more detailed analysis over the winter to assess this.

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