Keep an eye out for the Asian hornet

Ian Danby

Ian Danby

Ian Danby is BASC’s head of biodiversity and has been with the association for 20 years. His passions are wildfowling and pigeon shooting.

The invasive Asian hornet is a serious threat to the UK’s wildlife, especially our native honeybees and other insects. They impact the pollination of plants and crops, which in turn affects us all. 

Unfortunately, they have already been spotted on the Channel Islands, and in Tetbury, Gloucestershire. Therefore, it’s vital for everyone to be on the lookout and report sightings straight away.

Asian hornets are a serious threat to our honeybees

The direct impact on shooting might be minimal but our native insects could be in danger. We are especially concerned about the bees and the potential impact on pollination. 

Defra has produced a national pollinator strategy (2014). This highlights the severity of the threat Asian hornet’s pose to bees. Typically, European honeybees have no defensive strategies to fight back.

Defra has also placed staff in the field who are attempting to eradicate the species before it has a chance to establish itself. Hopefully, the danger is already gone.

A nest 14″ in diameter has been destroyed at Tetbury and there have been no further sightings so far. Early detection and eradication are crucial if we hope to stop an invasive alien species in its tracks.

What can you do?

Keeping an eye out for this dangerous alien is easy and has real value for biodiversity in the UK. Shooters spend so much time outdoors, in places others never see. So, we are ideally placed to tackle this issue and that’s why we are asking you to help.

I hope you’ll never see this hornet, but if you do, please do your bit for wildlife and report it. However, under no circumstances attempt to destroy a nest on your own. Asian hornets can be extremely dangerous when angered.

The GB Non-native Species Secretariat, the government organisation that co-ordinates action on invasive non-native species, has produced excellent identification guides for the Asian hornet. BASC has contributed to the Secretariat since its launch in 2006 and currently sit on the England working group. Working with the group enables shooting to play its part in battling alien species and be recognised for it.

Any suspicion you have is worth reporting – we need to protect our wildlife, especially the already struggling pollinators.

To report a possible sighting you can email, use the reporting website or download the Asian Hornet Watch app (for Android or Apple).

Invasive species or natural migrant - Asian hornet

Asian hornet (Vespa velutina)

Asian hornets are invasive non-native hornet originally from Asia. Any suspected sighting of these should be reported immediately. 

They are a highly aggressive predator of native insects, posing a significant threat to honeybees and other pollinators. 

Previously they were accidentally introduced to France in 2004 where it spread rapidly. In 2016, the first UK sighting was confirmed in Gloucestershire.

Where might I see it?

Asian hornets are most likely seen close to beehives – beekeepers should be alert.

When can I spot them?

Hornet activity is minimal from November onwards. Even though the workers die off over winter, the queens hibernate and start a new colony in the spring. Because of that, we must be vigilant from early spring when the queens first emerge. 

Typically they are active from February to November in suburban areas in the south of England and Wales, or around major ports.

However, we fear that the Asian hornet may be more widespread. Tetbury might just be one of many places already invaded and that’s why everyone needs to be vigilant.

What does it look like?

Asian hornet abdomen

Native hornet abdomen

A key feature of the Asian hornet is their almost entirely dark abdomen, except for the fourth segment which is yellow. Here are a few other tips on how to spot them:

  • Queen is up to 30mm long, worker up to 25mm long
  • Legs yellow at the ends
  • Dark brown/black abdomen with a yellow/orange band on fourth segment
  • Head dark from above, orange from front
  • Dark coloured antennae
  • Entirely black velvety thorax
  • Never active at night