National Bee Unit Update No. 7

A note regarding the Asian hornet (Vespa velutina), and the NBU’s current activities concerning this exotic pest threat.

The NBU is very aware of the recent arrival and spread of Asian hornets with the EU (France), the implications of this to beekeepers, and their understandable concerns. To bring you as up to date as possible, earlier this year the Non Native Species Secretariat (NNSS) requested the NBU to produce a formal Risk Assessment for the Asian hornet with respect to beekeeping in the UK (i.e. England, Scotland and Wales).

The draft assessment has been completed (in Sept. 2010), by the NBU and members of the Applied Entomology team at Fera. It considers in as much detail as possible, based on available literature, available scientific evidence and personal accounts, all feasible pathways of entry into UK – how these are regulated and potential volume of movement along each pathway (i.e. relative risk posed). It discusses likely impacts on honey bees and other insect prey sources (which may for example be important pollinators), possible methods of control, and implications to human health and amenities, should the Asian hornet be found over here. It also lists some actions that would be useful now to help “keep the hornet out”.

This lengthy document is currently under review by peer(s) in the field and by the Non-Native Species Risk Analysis Panel (NNRAP). In the meantime, the NBU is liaising with our colleagues in the NNSS to discuss what can do now to further raise awareness and the priority with which likelihood of entry should be addressed. In the immediate future we will be working on a Contingency Plan. A “Species Alert” for V. velutina has been posted on the front page of the NNSS website. We are working together to produce an identification sheet for V. velutina which will be made available through BeeBase and the NNSS website. In the meantime, BeeBase already posts a certain amount of information about V. velutina.

The NBU’s team of 60 Appointed Bee Inspectors carries out an annual apiary inspection programme across the eight beekeeping regions that comprise England and Wales. In a typical year the NBU’s Inspectorate makes between five and six thousand apiary visits, inspecting between 24,000 and 29,000 colonies. In 2009, however, ~40,000 colonies were inspected. Inspectorate personnel are already aware of the threat posed by the Asian hornet, and are clearly in an excellent position to educate the beekeeping community accordingly. However, other media and avenues of dissemination are being explored for use by, for example, garden centres, fruit and flower importers etc. The Plant Health and Seed Inspectorate (who monitor imports of fruit, flowers, and soil-bearing plants etc. that provide potential hibernation niches for mated hornet queens) will also be trained (January 2011) to identify and report any finds to the NBU.

The NBU is currently requesting that members of the public who suspect they have found an Asian hornet should a notify us immediately, providing as much information as possible. If possible, they should send us a sample for examination to confirm identity.

Kind regards,

National Bee Unit

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