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Update on the Asian hornet invasion in the UK

With the recent discovery of new Asian hornets’ nests in the UK, now is the time to look again at the spread of this predator, which arrived in Britain in 2016 and which has been propagating ever since. How can it be monitored? How can we try to curb this potential scourge? This public health issue is becoming a genuine concern in the UK and the British government has been taking measures since 2016 through dedicated organisations. With an awareness and information campaign and the introduction of digital tools, mobilisation is at its highest in two years!

Hornets are colonising the south of the UK

Arriving in England from the islands of Jersey and Alderney (July 2016), the Asian hornet has been propagating in Europe since 2004, when it was first discovered in France (possibly arriving in the south-west region in a shipment of pottery from China). Its gradual invasion has recently begun to affect England.

The hornet arrived in the UK in 2016, in Tetbury (Gloucestershire). This discovery came as no surprise to the government which stated on the subject: “We have been anticipating the arrival of the hornet by putting in place a whole set of procedures for dealing with the discovery of nests”. In October 2017, new nests were discovered in North Devon, then in June 2018, in Lancashire. This month, three new nests were discovered in Liskeard, Hull and Fowey (Cornwall).

Serious measures taken by government and beekeepers

Government organisations (such as the Animal and Plant Health Agency, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) are aware of this problem, which poses a major risk to bee colonies. The first initiative introduced was an information campaign on the arrival of the Asian hornet in England. In a press release dated 4 November 2016, the authorities stated that it was possible that the hornet may reappear in coming years and that bee inspectors must be informed upon discovery of hornets. So how should we deal with this public health issue? One of the first initiatives was to raise public awareness about the differences between the Asian hornet and the European hornet via a description sheet (available on the NNSS – Non Native Species Secretaries website). On this sheet, you can find the colour, size and shape of the insect, as well as photos of Asian hornets and their nests to help identify them.

Digital at the service of the fight against the Asian hornet

The authorities wanted to get all Brits involved by creating an app for indicating the location of hornets and/or nests. You can also register the discovery of hornets online here. Simply indicate the place, date and upload a photo of the insect in question. The aim is to centralise all these alerts in order to monitor its propagation and above all quickly deploy the teams to destroy or trap the hornets. Four steps are taken when an Asian hornet is identified to limit propagation: creation of a three-kilometre surveillance zone around the location of the nest, opening of a centre at the site to identify the captured insects, deployment of bee inspectors within the infestation zone and use of experts to eliminate the nest.

What does the future hold for the Asian hornet?

Scientists have tried to predict its spread in the UK and estimate that its population will be 50,000 hornets by 2027 (ref 1.). Chilling figures according to the mathematical (and probability) models used in this British study. One of the most effective means of countering the spread of the hornet in Britain is to set traps. The British distributor Thorne is responding rationally to this invasion by marketing the VespaCatch hornet trap by Véto-pharma. A beekeeper at Thorne, Sasha, explains that we should “remain optimistic because although this problem is complex, it is clear that the National Bee Unit is undertaking serious and effective work to destroy all nests. Effective strategies are being developed with all British beekeepers concerned to distribute hornet traps for example”. Thorne is also working to raise awareness about the Asian hornet. The distributor is using social networks to provide information on the issues linked to its arrival and the technology available to beekeepers to limits its propagation.


1 – Etude Predicting the spread of the Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) following its incursion into Great Britain’) – 2017