As we enter late summer, the 'Asian hornet' Vespa velutina reaches its most active time of year, and this is likely to be the year they reach Britain. As part of the 'GB rapid response protocol', Defra's Non-Native Species Secretariat (NNSS) has issued a species alert for V. velutina, including posters and fact sheets. Already widespread in western France, it is anticipated soon in southern England.
V. velutina can be distinguished from native and other hornets by its dark thorax and abdomen, the latter with only one yellow segment. An aggressive predator, it poses a threat to honey bees and other pollinators.
Invasive species are considered one of the biggest threats to global biodiversity, and by many in the UK as the single biggest threat. Whether invasive plants, novel pathogens, or predatory insects, the impacts already experienced are probably minor compared to those yet to come.
The following is taken directly from the NNSS website:
"The Asian hornet is an invasive non-native species from Asia. It has recently arrived in France where it is spreading rapidly. As a highly effective predator of insects, including honey bees and other beneficial species, it can cause significant losses to bee colonies, other native species, and potentially ecosystems.
"Not yet present in GB, but it is considered likely to arrive soon. The places it is most likely to be found are in southern parts of England (it may be able to cross the channel from France) or goods among which it could be accidentally imported (such as soil with imported pot plants, cut flowers, fruit and timber). Active months between April and November (peak August/September). Inactive over the winter, so the most likely time to see this species will be early next year.
"If possible, send in a sample to the National Bee Unit for examination to confirm identity (details at: www.nationalbeeunit.co.uk). However, do not under any circumstances disturb or provoke an active hornets' nest."
Various Asian Hornet resources, including an ID sheet, can be found at the NNSS Species Alerts page: https://secure.fera.defra.gov.uk/nonnativespecies/alerts/index.cfm.