THEIR survival is already under threat.

News of the first sighting of the Asian Hornet on a cauliflower in Bury, Lancashire, has prompted local bee-keepers to take action to protect these important species from the hornet which can swiftly wipe out colonies of honeybees.

According to the National Bee Unit’s ‘Bee Base’ the Asian hornet is smaller than our native hornet. Adult workers measure from 25mm in length and queens measuring 30mm.

Characteristically its legs are yellow and it’s face is orange with two brownish red compound eyes. It is mainly active between April and November, at its peak from August to September, but it remains inactive during the winter.

Bill Cadmore, training officer with the Bradford Beekeepers Association, says the news of the Asian hornet travelling to Lancashire from Lincolnshire ‘is very worrying.’

He says they are asking their bee-keepers to set up monitoring stations to find out whether there are any hornets in the area.

“We are using non killing traps so that any harmless insects caught can be released without harm,” explains Bill.

‘Suspect hornets will be photographed and then the insect and photograph will be sent to the Non Native Species Secretariat for identification.

But we can all do our bit, according to Bill. “Members of the public can help by keeping an eye out for ‘unusual looking wasp like creatures.’”

Bill recommends the public download the Asian Hornet Watch app onto their phones so they can see if the insect they are looking at is an Asian hornet or a native hornet.

“It is worth noting that the hornets are not a danger to humans. They are, however, extremely dangerous to honeybees and can destroy colonies very quickly,” adds Bill.

This is the first confirmed sighting since last year when a nest was discovered in Woolacombe in North Devon. Thankfully, that particular Asian hornet incursion was successfully contained by bee inspectors who tracked down and destroyed the nest.

“We can do without another international pest coming along. The Varroa Mite spread around the world in the late 90s and caused a major major problem,” says Bill, referring to the parasitic mite of adult bees and brood which, in the past century or so, has become the most serious pest of Western honeybees across the globe.

Nicola Spence, Defra Deputy Director for Plant and Bee Health, said: “While the Asian Hornet poses no greater risk to human health than a bee, we recognise the damage they can cause to honey bee colonies. That’s why we are taking swift and robust action to locate and investigate any nests in the Bury and Boston areas following this confirmed sighting.

“Following the successful containment of the Asian hornet incursion in North Devon last year, we have a well-established protocol in place to eradicate them and control any potential spread.

“We remain vigilant across the country, working closely with the National Bee Unit and their nationwide network of bee inspectors.”

Bee inspectors from APHA National Bee Unit will be carrying out surveillance and monitoring in a 1-2 km radius around the initial sighting. Additional monitoring and surveillance will be carried out in the Boston area where the cauliflower was grown.

If you suspect you have seen an Asian hornet you can report this using the iPhone and Android app ‘Asian Hornet Watch’ or by emailing Identification guides and more information are available.

Aside from protecting and preserving this important insect which, as a pollinator, is integral to the production of our food, Bradford Beekeepers Association are busy with other initiatives this year.

The organisation, which currently has more than 120 members, is organising a ‘bee safari’ for members to visit each other’s apiaries and share tips and advice on caring for their bees, and they are also hoping to open a new association apiary on a local nature reserve.

Bill believes the increasing numbers of people joining the association reflects the growing interest in bee-keeping.

“I think it reflects the general interest in quality food and doing a bit for yourself and nature. We live in a society where we have very little contact with the natural world but bee-keeping puts you right there with nature and you get some honey out of it in the end - if you’re lucky!” says Bill.