The British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA) is calling on the public to help fight a major threat to honey bees and other pollinators - Asian hornets.  Numbers of the destructive insect are rising rapidly this summer and more have been detected in the UK this year than in the previous six years combined.

BBKA Chair, Diane Drinkwater, said:  

“At this early stage of the Asian hornet season, which goes on into the autumn, it is extremely worrying to see so many cases and so early. We must act now to stop them from getting established in this country. Reports from Europe and Jersey indicate that this is an exceptional year for Asian hornets with record numbers of queens and nests. We urge the public to join forces with beekeepers to protect our honey bees and other pollinators from this voracious predator.”

More than 1,000 beekeepers across the country are part of elite teams trained to provide emergency support to the National Bee Unit’s (NBU) hornet hunters.  Hornet sightings are filtered by the NBU, part of Defra, and teams of bee inspectors deployed to track hornets back to their nests which are then destroyed.  But the help of the eagle-eyed public is essential to spot the hornets which may be devouring insects or feeding on fallen fruit or ivy flowers.

Asian hornets (Vespa velutina) are slightly smaller than native European hornets, have yellow legs, an orange face and brown body with one yellow stripe.

Last summer beekeeper Mick Brian discovered an Asian hornet in his garden in Plymouth which eventually led to the destruction of two nests: “We watched in stunned silence as the insect singled out a honey bee, carried it to a nearby leaf, and began to dissect it.”

Just one Asian hornet can hunt down and eat 30 - 50 honey bees a day and their habit of hawking (hovering) outside the hive stops the bees from collecting nectar and pollen to feed themselves.

Diane added: “Asian hornets are wreaking havoc in Europe and we fear if they get a foot-hold in the UK our honey bees and many other insects will be decimated here too.  They are the greatest threat to beekeeping since the Varroa mite was discovered more than 30 years ago.”

BBKA trustee Julie Coleman, who lives in Kent where many of the hornets discovered last year were found, said there are likely to be several reasons behind the huge rise in cases: “The fact that we seem to have a cluster around the coast in Kent, also Dorset, Plymouth, Weymouth and Hampshire makes me think they are coming across on the wind. And there could have been an overwintered nest in Kent which has sent out hibernating queens in the autumn.“

It is important to take care not to approach or disturb a nest. Asian hornets are not generally aggressive towards people but an exception to this is when they perceive a threat to their nest.

People who suspect they have seen an Asian hornet should report it immediately using the phone app ‘Asian Hornet Watch’ or the online reporting form.

BBKA press release issued 10.8.23


About Asian hornets (Vespa velutina):

As of 10.8.23, there have been 23 confirmed Asian hornets, including 15 nests in 2023 and other active investigations are ongoing.

Between 2016 and 2022 there have been 23 confirmed sightings including 14 nests. The first Asian hornet in the UK was discovered in 2016.

See the NBU Asian hornet rolling news page for latest status. 

The UK is in the eradication phase of the contingency response and all nests are being tracked and killed rapidly.

All hornets caught along with the contents of the nests are being analysed for relatedness to determine if there is any evidence of an established population in the UK.

To date there is no evidence of an established population in the UK.

Reports from Europe and Jersey indicate that it is an exceptional hornet year and record numbers of queens and nests are being seen.

Asian hornets are slightly smaller than native European hornets, have a distinctive black/dark brown thorax; brown abdominal segments with the fourth segment almost entirely yellow-orange, brown legs with yellow ends, a black head and an orange-yellow face.

A report by scientists puts the cost of the Asian hornet invasion in France at €30.8 million annually. 

Scientists report that Asian hornets have a serious and detrimental impact on pollinators and pollination services.