Coming to a garden near you?
The Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) in the British Isles
The Asian hornet is a dangerous, non-native species which has the potential to wreak havoc in the UK. It hails from Southeast Asia and could never have arrived here naturally. Natural History Museum
It is already well-established in France (and across continental Europe) and has caused immense damage to local ecosystems. It is also a significant risk the human population. Evidence indicates it would it cause similar destruction in the UK if it became established here.
The main concern for UK authorities is the Asian hornet is a significant predator of bees. In France, it has consumed large numbers of the European honey bee and many lesser-known solitary and social bees. RSPB, Asian hornet
There has also been a number of reports indicating aggressive behaviour from Asian hornets, particularly where their nests have been disturbed and this is where the direct risk to humans lies.
The UK Government (the Department of the environment, food and rural affairs) and nature conservation organisations, including the British Beekeepers Association are concerned about the impacts of Asian hornets on bees as these pollinating species are essential to a well-functioning ecosystem.
The first sighting of an Asian Hornet in the UK was in 2016. Since then, there has been seventeen confirmed sightings and nine nests have been destroyed. The last confirmed sighting was in 2020 in Gosport, Hampshire where the nest was located and destroyed. UK Government
Learning from the dreadful experiences of our European neighbours, the UK response has been decisive and well organised. Whenever a sighting is confirmed, the National Bee Unit supported by local volunteer beekeepers locates and destroys the nest preventing the onward spread of this harmful pest.
What can I do?
There are three simple things all of us can do to help prevent the spread of the Asian hornet.
- Learn how to identify it
- Be aware
- Know how to report it
1. How to identify the Asian Hornet
It’s important not to confuse the Asian Hornet with the beneficial native European hornet (Vespa crabro) which is the largest eusocial wasp native to Europe. It has a yellow head with a reddish brown thorax (the middle bit) and it’s abdomen has yellow and black stripes like it’s smaller cousin, the common wasp. It also has reddish-brown legs. Know your hornets
Although it may look a bit scary at 3.3cm long, the European hornet is the gardeners’ friend. It pollinates plants and preys on pests like black fly and aphids. What’s more, its much less likely to sting you than the common wasp. Don’t be put off by it’s deep droning buzz which some people find intimidating!
The Asian Hornet is smaller than our native hornet, typically (2.5cm long). It is almost entirely dark especially when viewed from above and has one noticeably orange segment near the bottom of its back. It’s most characteristic feature is it’s bright yellow legs which are very different to the dark legs of the European hornet.
Compare and contrast
2. Be aware
You don’t have to hide out with a pair of binoculars and a compendium of entomology to stake out the Asian hornet but, next time you’re in the garden with a cup of tea or a gin and tonic, why not really study the bees, wasps and other buzzy things you see there?
I’m certain when you do, you’ll be amazed by the spectacular beauty of the little creatures working around you. You’ll start noticing their fascinating behaviours too.
When we take the time to watch them, it’s easier to appreciate what they do for us and caring for them becomes second nature.
And should you happen to see a hornet, remember, she’s more scared of you than you are of her. Take time to watch her. Check out her black and yellow stripes and reddish-brown legs and hopefully, confirm in your own mind, that she’s a Vespa crabro. (European hornet)
3. Reporting an Asian hornet
The most important thing is to be prepared. With any luck, you’ll never need to report a sighting but it’s best be ready just in case.
If you are unlucky enough to see one, here’s what to do:
There’s an app called Asian hornet watch which can be downloaded free of charge to any iPhone or android handset. You’ll probably never need it and it’ll sit on your phone gathering dust but, it’s there just in case.
Or, you can ring your local volunteer Asian hornet co-ordinator. To find one near you, click here Asian hornet coordinator
If you think you’ve identified an Asian hornet, it’s important you take a photograph to confirm your sighting. A confirmed sighting will invariably lead to an extensive response involving multiple human and other resources. The National Bee Unit and volunteers can only respond if the sighting is confirmed by a photograph.
You may be worried about getting close enough to take a photo but please be assured, a single Asian hornet is unlikely to hurt you. A whole colony near where you live however, is a different matter. That’s likely to be, well, a bit of a hornet’s nest!
If you see an Asian hornet, please report it! It’s in your interests and in the interests of everyone else.