I don’t know about you, but I’m becoming increasingly uneasy about the number of Asian hornet nests being found and destroyed in the UK. They are most active during September, October and into November. At the time of writing this article (11 Sept) 42 nests had been identified and destroyed. It begs the question - how many more are there that are not being found??? the known unknown... to put it another way, more nests are probably there, but we don’t know where they are or how many there are of them. We need more people actively looking for them. We should all be worried.
First of all, let’s look at the broader picture. Increasing globalization of trade and travel has greatly facilitated and escalated the spread of Non-Native Species (NNS). Climate change induced by ‘Man’ hasn’t helped either. Human beings have a lot to answer for. I can’t help thinking that if human beings were the next creature to become extinct, the world would, very quickly, become a much better place to live. Except... we wouldn’t be here to live in it.
Fortunately, the majority of these NNS are harmless to our native fauna and flora. Take the Tree bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum. It came over from the European continent about 22 years ago. It is now fully established throughout England and Wales and beginning to nudge into Scotland. It is an excellent pollinator and it doesn’t cause any harm. Though it could, perhaps, be argued that it takes pollen and nectar that our native bees would otherwise have made use of. But then there are things like Japanese knotweed, Himalayan Balsam, Signal crayfish, Grey squirrel and others that are Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS) and do cause damage to our natural ecosystems and biodiversity.
A research scientist named Williamson identified the ‘Tens rule’ - 10% of Non-Native Species will become established, and approximately 10% of those species will become invasive.
In Great Britain, there were 3,248 non-native species listed in 2021, of which 2,016 were classified as established (self sustaining in the wild), of which 187 are considered to be invasive, i.e. exert a negative impact on biodiversity. It is estimated that currently, ten new species become established in the UK each year, with 10-20% becoming invasive.
Asian hornets (Vespa velutina) pose a very real threat to our native pollinators and therefore to our food production. They cannot yet officially be said to be established in the UK. For that, there has to be genetic evidence that the nests found this year, were formed by queens produced in nests that were established last year. But it seems unlikely that every one of the queens, that set up all the nests this year, accidentally happened to hitch a lift across the channel or were blown across on the wind. A few, at least, must have come from nests that avoided detection last year.
Here are a few of things we could all do.
1. Learn how to identify an Asian hornet, remember ‘yellow legs’.
There are plenty of online resources that will help you to distinguish an Asian hornet from our other, native, similar looking insects.
2. Set up a monitoring station.
Take a jam jar. Make a hole in the lid large enough for a J-cloth kitchen towel to be threaded through. Pour a sweet attractant into the jar - a fruit juice with added sugar or jam mixed with water and added sugar, basically, anything that attracts wasps will also attract hornets. Screw on the lid. The cloth acts as a wick and numerous insects will be attracted to the wick. Crucially, none will be harmed. You then need to observe the jar for a few minutes each day. If Asian hornets find it and feed from it, they will return regularly, which then allows you to take a picture, and that leads to the next thing...
3. Download the ‘Asian hornet Watch’ app onto your smart phone.
It will help you with identification, but it also allows you to take a photo which then gets sent automatically to where your sighting can be triaged and action initiated if necessary.
Asian hornets are slightly smaller than native European hornets, have yellow legs, an orange face and brown/black body with one yellow/orange stripe near the end of their abdomen.
Remember, it’s not just a beekeeping problem, all pollinators are under threat.