Asian hornets: Britons urged to look out for invasive insects this summer - which could wipe out UK honeybees

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The government has a unit standing by to find and destroy nests, if the invasive hornets are spotted.

The UK’s Chief Plant Health Officer is calling for extra vigilance around Asian hornet sightings this summer - amid fears the aggressive insects could decimate Britain’s honeybees.

While not dangerous to human health and considerably smaller than native hornets, the Asian hornet is an invasive species from Southeast Asia. They have not yet become established in the UK, and the government would like to keep it that way - with the species’ tendency to prey on bees and other pollinators meaning they could do untold ecological and economic damage if left unchecked.

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On Monday (20 May), Chief Plant Health Officer Nicola Spence urged British beekeepers and the public to report any sightings as we move into the peak summer season, after a record number of Asian hornets were found in the UK in 2023. Last year saw the Animal and Plant Health Agency’s National Bee Unit destroy some 72 nests across 56 locations - the majority found in Kent.

The National Bee Unit was standing ready to respond quickly and effectively to any further possible sightings, Ms Spence said, and had already laid out traps in areas Asian hornet queens may have overwintered. The traps, which allow other insects to escape, have been set across Kent, East Sussex, Devon and North Yorkshire.

Asian hornets are smaller than native hornets, but deadly to our bees and other pollinators (Photo: Wildlife and Countryside Link/PA Wire)Asian hornets are smaller than native hornets, but deadly to our bees and other pollinators (Photo: Wildlife and Countryside Link/PA Wire)
Asian hornets are smaller than native hornets, but deadly to our bees and other pollinators (Photo: Wildlife and Countryside Link/PA Wire) | PA

“By ensuring we are alerted to possible sightings as early as possible, the public can help us take swift and effective action to stamp out the threat posed by Asian hornets,” she said. “While the Asian hornet poses no greater risk to human health than other wasps or hornets, they can damage honey bee colonies and harm other pollinators.

“Please continue to be vigilant for any Asian hornets and if you think you’ve spotted one, report your sighting through the Asian hornet app or online,” she added.

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What does an Asian hornet look like?

Asian hornets are distinctive, and can be identified by their very dark body, the wide orange stripe towards the front of their abdomen, and their yellow-tipped legs. They are smaller than British hornets, but considerably bigger than wasps.

It’s important to note the UK and Europe do also have native hornets, which are a natural part of our ecosystem. These are a lighter, red-brown colour, with much more yellow on their faces and abdomens.

How can I report an Asian hornet sighting?

If you suspect you have seen an Asian hornet, you should report it using the Asian Hornet Watch app - available on iPhone and Android - or by using this online report form. Alternatively, you can email [email protected]. Please include a photograph if you can safely obtain one. 

Identification guides and more information are available here, and if you keep bees you should keep up to date with the latest situation on the sightings page or on BeeBase. Defra warns that you should take care not to approach or disturb a nest - and leave removing it to the professionals. Asian hornets are not generally aggressive towards people, but if they perceive a threat to their nest this can easily change.

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