British bees ‘too scared to go out’ because of Asian hornet threat

Asian hornets pose an existential threat to native bees
Asian hornets pose an existential threat to native bees - GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP via Getty Images

Asian hornets are leaving British bees too scared to go out, beekeepers have warned.

A third of the native population could be wiped out because they fear leaving their nests owing to the invasive foreign predator, according to the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA).

There was a record number of Asian hornet nests discovered in the UK last year. A total of 72 were destroyed, marking a significant rise in the population of the species. Since 2016, only 85 nests have been discovered.

The BBKA said this growth represented a threat to the continued existence of native bees.

Asian hornets have black bodies and the ends of their legs are yellow, compared with the British species which is smaller and yellower.

The animals pose no threat to human health but can destroy native honey beehives and populations.

Ian Campbell, spokesman for British Beekeepers Association, told The Telegraph: “A conservative estimate of British bee losses would be about 30 per cent, but it could be much worse.

“Bees become too scared to go out because they know there is a predator around and they don’t function in the way they usually would.

“They don’t bring in the stores they usually would, the queen and colony don’t build to their usual size, which is called ‘colony paralysis’. And because of this, they don’t survive the winter.

“We are looking at significant losses of British bees.”

He added: “We are urging the public to keep an eye out for them [hornets] and report sightings. The National Bee Unit is then putting boots on the ground to eradicate them.”

Mr Campbell said there had been a number of sightings this year already and that DNA tests showed relatedness between hornets this year and last.

He said this was a sign they were becoming established in the UK, adding: “This is very concerning. Once they are established, eradication becomes very difficult. There are concerns there may have been hornet queens raised in the UK already.”

Scientists at Defra’s Animal and Plant Health Agency are trying to determine if any of last year’s Asian hornets managed to stay in the UK over the winter by setting up traps in the South-East and North Yorkshire.

Eight Asian hornet nests have so far been spotted in 2024, with five in East Sussex, two in Kent and one in east London.

Sarah Dines, the MP for Derbyshire Dales, said many of her constituents had voiced concerns about the species sweeping the country.

She said: “The majority of beekeeping is small scale and many of my constituents are very worried. They have concerns the hornets will sweep across the country and are heading towards the Midlands.”

Ms Dines is trying to raise awareness of the issue in order to keep the population of British bees and the wider ecosystem healthy.

She said: “It is essential that we keep healthy native bees and guard against the horrors of this foreign predator.

“Without natural pollinators how do we produce food for the nation?

“They will also eat any kind of insect and they will have knock-on effects to our ecosystem.”

Ms Dines added: “It is important that people take notice of these bees and are aware of the threat to our pollinators’ these fierce predators represent.

“We need a sensible level of vigilance to keep our honey.”

Nicola Spence, Defra’s chief plant and bee health officer professor, said: “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.”