A British wildlife charity has warned that a spate of bad news stories about the invasive Asian hornet is leading to the persecution of its home-grown equivalent.
Devon Wildlife Trust said it has across cases of people exterminating the European hornet (Vespa crabro) thinking it was the troublesome Asian hornet (Vespa velutina).
Asian hornets are devastating to honeybees, with the insects raiding and destroying colonies. There is growing fear among British beekeepers that the presence of Asian hornets threatens the future of the honeybee.
Confirmed reports of Asian hornet nests in Devon and Cornwall have fuelled concerns. But the trust believes that fears over the arrival of the Asian hornet are leading to the misguided persecution of the native European hornet.
Its spokesman, Steve Hussey, said: “We’ve had several people telling us that they think they have an Asian hornet nest on their property and asking can they destroy it? Other people have told us that they have already gone ahead and destroyed nests, suspecting them of belonging to Asian hornets, but where we’ve been able to do further investigation all the cases have proved to be European hornets and not the invasive species.
“This is really unfortunate. European hornets are a beautiful and vital part of our environment. They also help us by helping to keep in check many insect species that gardeners consider to be pests.”
“European hornets are also struggling and their persecution is one of the factors behind this recent decline. Other countries are now urgently acting to conserve their remaining hornets; in Germany, for example, since 1987 it has been illegal to destroy a hornet nest. We need to look after our native population too.”
Devon Wildlife Trust recommends that people be aware of the threat of Asian hornets and they should immediately follow official guidelines on suspected cases. This means not destroying the nest and instead carefully photographing the insect without disturbing the nest and submitting an online sighting report to the GB Non-native Species Secretariat (NNSS).
Hussey said: “Telling a native European hornet from an Asian hornet isn’t always easy. Our native hornets are slightly bigger, while Asian hornets tend to be smaller and of a darker colour, not yellow, especially on their thorax (middle section) and abdomens (tail section).”
“However, it is easy to be confused, so our advice is always not to destroy a nest, but instead to report suspected sightings of Asian hornets to the NNSS.”