From the potential threat of industrial agricultural, parasites, pathogens, pesticides, climate change as well as the destruction of habitats and declining biodiversity, bee populations are seemingly under threat from all angles.
And now new research from the Universities of Warwick and Newcastle, together with the National Bee Unit, claims the Asian hornet (Vespa velutina nigrothorax) could colonise the UK and threaten bee populations further still, unless urgent action is taken.
Honey bees in Europe have been significantly affected since the Asian hornet first came to France in 2004. It is believed to have arrived in an import of Chinese pottery.
The first active nest in the UK was discovered and destroyed in Gloucestershire just last year after the Asian hornet spread through France to infest Italy, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium.
Researchers believe the yellow legged or Asian hornet – a predator of honey bees and other beneficial insects which lurks outside hives to kill bees when they return from foraging – could rapidly colonise Britain and is urging beekeepers, gardeners and the general public and to be vigilant and learn how to correctly identify Asian hornets and their nests.
If left to thrive, Asian hornets could get to such high levels it would put a critical strain on honey bees in just two decades, according to professor Matt Keeling, from Warwick’s Zeeman Institute for Systems Biology & Infectious Disease Epidemiology Research (SBIDER).
The research team simulated the estimated Asian hornet spread over a 25 year period starting at the site of the first verified nest and mapped its predicted invasion. They used data from the Andernos-les-Bains region in France where there has been detailed observation and destruction of Asian hornet nests over the last eight years.
“Our research shows the potential for this predator to successfully invade and colonise the UK, spreading rapidly from any new invasion site,” says professor Keeling.
“Even if we have managed to successfully control this first invasion, the presence of a growing population of these hornets in Northern Europe makes future invasions inevitable.”
Dr Giles Budge, from Fera Science and Newcastle University says combatting this problem is all about early detection and eradication.
“ To do this, we need members of the public and beekeepers to familiarise themselves with this hornet, look out for signs of foraging hornets particularly near honey bee colonies, and check the tallest trees for their large nests,” he says.
“Rapid reporting could make all the difference between eradication and widespread establishment.”
Vespa velutina nigrithorax is smaller than the native hornet, with adult workers measuring from 25 millimetres in length, and queens measuring around 30 millimetres.
Its abdomen is mostly black except for its fourth abdominal segment, which has a yellow band located towards the rear. It has yellow legs, and its face is orange with two brownish red compound eyes.
Asian hornet sighting can be reported to the Non Native Species Secretariat via [email protected] and there is also an app to help people identify and report the honey bee predator.