Asian hornets have arrived in the UK, with sightings confirmed in the Tetbury area of Gloucestershire by the National Bee Unit. In a statement, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs, (Defra) said this is the first time the Asian hornet has been discovered in the UK.
The threat of Asian hornets coming to the UK has been highlighted in the press for many years. The species arrived in France in 2004 and reports of their imminent arrival across the Channel date back to at least 2011.
Many dubbed them Asian "killer" hornets on account that they kill native honey bees and people – the latter being six reported deaths in France in 12 years. However, this reputation as a man-killer is somewhat unfounded. While Asian hornets can cause anaphylactic shock which can result in death, the species has no special venom making it more deadly to humans than other stinging insects.
Nicola Spence, Defra deputy director for plant and bee health, said: "We have been anticipating the arrival of the Asian hornet for some years and have a well-established protocol in place to eradicate them and control any potential spread. It is important to remember they pose no greater risk to human health than a bee, though we recognise the damage they can cause to honey bee colonies."
Asian hornets pose a risk to honey bees because they hunt and kill them, potentially causing significant losses to bee colonies in areas they are found. However, because Defra has been aware of the threat of their arrival, it has put in place a plan to destroy any Asian hornet nests discovered.
They are already working to identify and remove nests in the area of the sighting. They have set up a three mile surveillance zone around Tetbury, opened a local control centre and deployed bee inspectors across the area who will use infrared cameras to find any nests. Once found, experts will use pesticides to kill the hornets and will destroy the nests.
"We remain vigilant across the country, working closely with the National Bee Unit and their nationwide network of bee inspectors," Spence said.
Beekeeping associations have also warned people to be aware of differences between Asian hornets and European hornets. Beekeeper Angela Woods said: "As beekeepers I guess we need to be sure of the differences before mass indiscriminate killing of harmless wasps, European hornets, hover flies and such like. Which would be a shame. There is growing hysteria on Twitter."
Experts are carrying out DNA analysis of the Tetbury Asian hornet to work out where it came from. As well as destroying nests, Defra also assures the species will not be able to spread into the north of the UK as it will not be able to survive the cold winters.