The first confirmed sighting of an Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) in the UK for more than a year was made in Ascot, Berkshire, on 8 October, 2021. Four days later, the nest had been located and destroyed, and on its way to NBU/ Fera laboratories in York for genetic and other analyses. Monitoring in Ascot is continiung to make sure that was the only nest in the area.

The Asian hornets had been spotted in an Ascot suburb by an observant beekeeper tending his bees. He saw the hornets hawking in front of his hives and reported his sighting, sending a video and photos on Wednesday 6 October. The NBU Asian hornet team swung into action immediately and, despite some mixed weather conditions when the hornets didn’t fly, located the nest on 11 October using their well-tested track-and-trace techniques.

The nest, one of the biggest yet found in the UK, was discovered on the edge of woodland, 20 metres above ground in a poplar tree. It was barely visible from the ground and was unlikely to have been found without the track-and-trace system. Despite difficult ground conditions and the relatively fragile tree, the nest was recovered intact by specialist and well-protected personnel using a cherry picker.

Within 24 hours of being discovered, the nest was on its way for genetic and other analyses which may give clues as to the origin of the colony and its stage of development. A well-developed nest at this time of year may have the ability to send out viable queens.

The Ascot operation continues with bait stations and traps being located in the area to establish if there really was just one nest. Beekeepers in the area have been put on high alert to watch for the invasive insect and beekeepers throughout the country are encouraged to watch in their apiaries and to set traps and to report any sightings with photographs (where possible) via the Asian hornet Watch smartphone apps.

The Ascot Asian hornet nest was the eleventh to be destroyed since the insect was first seen in the UK five years ago. Thanks to the Asian hornet eradication programme, there is no evidence to suggest that the insect has established itself in the UK. For information on traps and the Asian hornet Watch app, see nationalbeeunit.com

The December 2021 BeeCraft magazine will report in detail the inside story of the operation in Ascot. 

Picture credits:
Bee inspector with Asian hornet nest: Peter Davies, NBU
Marked Asian hornet: Stephen Fleming, BeeCraft

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