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Asian hornets survive British winter for the first time despite an increase in sightings

Asian hornets could be here to stay in the UK after DNA tests confirmed they survived winter for the first time.

The invasive species, which has the scientific name Vespa Velutinedismembers and eats bees and poses a threat to pollinators and local ecosystems.

They thrive in France and there have been increasing reports in recent years in the south of England.

Earlier this month, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said there was no strong evidence the hornets had stayed here over the winter.

But tests carried out by the government-backed National Bee Unit (NBU) have shown that three royal hornets captured at Four Oaks, East Sussex, are the offspring of a destroyed nest at nearby Rye, in November 2023 – suggesting the hornets are breeding in the UK. .

However, the NBU said it would need evidence of a population of the creatures breeding over a “significant” number of generations before classifying them as naturalized in the UK.

In 2016, the Asian hornet was first discovered in the UK in Tetbury.
In 2016, the Asian hornet was first discovered in the UK in Tetbury. (Getty Images)

What to do if you see an Asian hornet

  • The Asian hornet is smaller than our native hornet, with adult workers starting at 25mm in length and queens measuring 30mm.
  • The abdomen is mostly black except for the fourth abdominal segment which has a yellow band. It has distinctively yellow legs, which is why it is often called the yellow-legged hornet, and its face is orange with two brownish-red compound eyes.
  • If you think you have seen an Asian hornet, please notify the Great British Non-Native Species Secretariat (NNSS) immediately. Initially, sightings should be reported via the free Asian Hornet Watch app, available for Android And iPhone
  • Where possible, a photo, location of the sighting and a description of the insect seen should be included.
  • If you are interested in learning more about the Asian hornet or any other invasive species, the NNSS website provides plenty of information about the extensive work being done to combat invasive species and tools to help those working in this area.

Source: National Bee Unit

The presence of the hornets was first confirmed in France in 2004, when they were discovered in the southwest region of Lot-et-Garonne.

They would have been imported in a convoy of pottery from China and would then have spread to several regions of France.

In 2016, the Asian hornet was first discovered in the United Kingdom, in Tetbury. The nest was found and destroyed after 10 days of intensive search by authorities.

But there were subsequent sightings and steps were taken to find and destroy the nests.

In 2023 alone, the NBU reported destroying 72 nests in 56 locations, with the majority affected in Kent.

Eight sightings have been reported in the UK so far this year, including three in one week in May. Most have been spotted in East Sussex and Kent.

Any hornets found likely originated from the European population rather than a new incursion from Asia, the NBU added.

The hornets are, however, established in Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Jersey.

They attack a wide range of insects, including bees, and disrupt the ecological role they play.

It also alters biodiversity in the regions of France where it is present and can constitute a health risk for people allergic to hornet or wasp stings.

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