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Threat to bees and crops as killer hornet lands in UK; Welsh beekeepers pray predators have not nested.

Byline: ANDREW FORGRAVE Rural Affairs Editor

BEEKEEPERS around Britain are on high alert after the discovery of the country's first Asian hornets.

Experts have warned of dire consequences for honeybees - and food production - if the species is not swiftly eliminated. Two Asian hornet were found this week in the Tetbury area of Gloucestershire, where work is now under way to find and destroy any nests.

A three-mile surveillance zone, set up around Tetbury, encompasses bee hives belonging to Prince Charles on his Highgrove estate.

Bee inspectors are using infrared cameras at night to find any nests, which are typically in trees and can be hard to locate.

If nests are found, disposal experts are on standby to use pesticides to kill the hornets.

Beekeepers are hoping the hornets are isolated discoveries and they have not yet bred.

"This could not have happened at a worse time of year," said Wally Shaw, of Anglesey Beekeepers Association.

"If they had been found in May or June - even July - we would have been confident of eliminating them.

"The fact that two hornets have been found implies there may be a nest, in which case it may already contain a mated queen.

"It is a worrying time but the two hornets may just be stowaways and the problem can be easily contained."

UK rural ministry Defra said the inch-long Asian hornet poses no greater risk to human health than bees.

Defra photo of the Tetbury hornet PIC: DAVID CROSSLEY/DEFRA/PA WIRE The Tebury hornets have been sent for DNA testing at the National Bee Unit to establish how they arrived in the UK.

Asian hornets arrived in France in 2004 and are now common across large areas of Europe.

This summer the species was found on the Channel Islands for the first time and Defra has been anticipating its arrival ever since, in imported goods or aerially.

Nicola Spence, Defra's deputy director for plant and bee health, said: "We have a well-established protocol in place to eradicate them and control any potential spread."

The hornet is a voracious predator not just of honeybees but other pollinating insects too.

Mr Shaw said hive traps may control the problem but not eliminate it, with potentially disastrous results for beekeepers. "The hornet hovers outside a hive and swoops down on bees as they emerge, rather like a hawk," he said.

"It bites the head off the bee and carries the body back to its young. It will continue doing this until the bee colony is weakened to such an extent that it can enter the hive and eat all the larvae, honey and remaining bees." It is thought the hornets will not be able to survive in the colder north and wetter west of the UK but Mr Shaw said no one was quite sure.

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Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 22, 2016
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