Local beekeepers on the frontline against Asian hornet invader
PUBLISHED: 07:01 21 June 2018
Beekeepers in East Devon are on high alert as the battle against the Asian hornet hots up.
The invading species has already been found in Devon and two other parts of the country. Experts say it has the potential to devastate honey bee and other pollinating insect populations.
A honey farm near Sidbury is now the national centre of excellence for training beekeepers to cascade knowledge down to those at the ‘hive face’.
Beekeepers are seen as the natural frontline in the fight to prevent the menace taking hold. There are 1,000 beekeepers in Devon, 100 of them in East Devon.
“It’s only a question of time before we get it,” said Ken Basterfield, of Blackbury Honey Farm, a trustee of the British Beekeepers’ Association.
“The longer we can hold off that wholesale invasion by capturing Asian hornet queens before they’ve had a chance to establish nests, the better the chance we have of controlling it.
“Within the space of about five years, I think we shall have lost half of our colonies if it gets established. So our job is to try and delay it getting established.”
The varroa mite wiped out bee colonies in the early 1990s. The Asian hornet reached France 10 years ago. It hovers at the front of the bees’ nest and picks off individuals as they come and go.
Ken explained: “One of the problems is that the colonies get so heavily predated with their returning forages that there’s no income and the colony then goes into a sort of recession mode, almost afraid to go out, and then the colony declines quite rapidly.”
It was first spotted two years ago in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, and then at Woolacombe in North Devon last September. Most recently it was found in Colne in Lancashire.
Dan Basterfield, who runs the national diploma in beekeeping, said: “There are all sorts of ways these things move around these days with global trade – the latest incident was a hibernating queen in a cauliflower.”
The native hornet co-exists in a finely-balanced ecology. The Asian hornet is slightly smaller and has more brown and less yellow on its body.
Ken said: “We need early identification, destruction, and then in the future some action plan to manage the situation.”
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