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Bee-killing Asian hornets could arrive in Britain soon

29 February-4th March sees the launch of Invasives Species Week, which aims to raise awareness of the huge problem of invasive non-native species (INNS) like the Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) that is likely to arrive in the UK soon.

29 February 2016

Tough new EU controls which came into force in January aim to stop the spread of 37 invasive species (See attached list). While this is a big step in the right direction, the scale of the problem is huge, and Invasives Species Week aims to teach the public about the damage INNS can cause and what they can do to help.

Did you know?
• INNS cost the UK more than £1.7 billion a year to control.
• Out of 2000 non-native species currently in GB, at least 300 are invasive, with new INNS arriving each year.
• INNS have been the most important drivers of bird extinctions over recent centuries, responsible for around half of global bird extinctions since 1500.

Chair of the Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Invasives group Camilla Keane says: “Like all invasive non-native species, once established the Asian hornet would be incredibly difficult and hugely costly to tackle. While we recognise the UK Government played an important role in developing the EU Invasive Alien Species Regulation as well as the list of 37 species of EU concern, during Invasive Species Week, we are calling on the Government in England to work with devolved administrations to develop a list of invasive alien species of UK wide concern as set out in the EU IAS Regulation. This would support collaborative working across the EU and help prevent species like the Asian hornet reaching our shores."

The Asian hornet is an aggressive predator of the honeybee and other pollinators, and like other INNS causes significant environmental and economic damage. It is thought to have arrived in Europe after being imported from China to France in pottery in 2004. From a single nest, the hornets then spread to Portugal, Italy and Belgium. Although it is not present in Britain yet, the Asian hornet is spreading rapidly throughout France, and it is feared that it is just a matter of time before it reaches our shores. It is likely to cross the Channel accidently via imported pot plants, fruit, cut flowers and timber.

Smaller than our native European hornet (Vespa crabro), the Asian hornet has an almost entirely dark abdomen and yellow ends to its legs. It is important to note that it is the larger and more aggressive Giant Asian hornet (Vespa mandarinia) that has been known to kill people. However the smaller species still poses a deadly threat to honeybees and other pollinators and any potential sightings should be immediately reported to the GB Non-native Species Secretariat.

"Sadly many other invasive species already wreak havoc in our countryside, and new invasive non-native species are arriving each year, so the issue is not going away. However, there is a lot people can do to help combat the problem. From not growing particular plants in your garden, composting garden waste wisely, to cleaning down your equipment after fishing or boating. There are a number of small steps like this that can dramatically reduce the spread of INNS" says Camilla Keane Chair of the Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Invasives group.

During Invasive Species Week, there will be a series of events and workshops taking place across UK. As well as looking at ways countries can work together to stop INNS reaching our shores, there will be a big drive to stop the spread of aquatic INNS in our rivers, canals, lakes and streams which is a huge problem (see case studies attached). The “Check, Clean, Dry” campaign encourages people who use waterways - from anglers to recreational boat users -to clean their equipment properly. In doing so they could really help stop the spread of many invasive species. There will also be advice to gardeners about what plants they should avoid.

For more information on invasives week and the events taking places visit

See more about invasive species in our blogs!


1) Floating Pennywort, Hydrocotyle ranunculoides, is found in slow-flowing water such as ditches, lowland rivers and on the edges of lakes, where it forms dense vegetative mats that out-compete most native aquatic plants, block out light and reduce the concentration of oxygen. It can negatively impact on fish and other wildlife through restricting access to feeding and resting habitats and can contribute to localised flooding by blocking drainage systems. Floating pennywort has a rapid growth rate of up to 20cm a day and is particularly difficult to control due to this fast vegetative growth. It has a significant impact on angling and recreation revenues with estimated costs to recreation of £23,537,000 annually. In 2014 the Environment Agency undertook a 6 week programme of work on an area of the Cam and Ely Ouse where floating pennywort had taken over. The Environment Agency removed over 1000 tonnes of floating pennywort and some of the mats were 22 metres long and 10 metres wide with a depth size of up to 30 millimetres. In one location the teams removed a mat weighing 1.7 tonnes!

2) The garden escapee American skunk-cabbage may look dramatic in the spring but it can have a devastating impact in the wild and puts our native wildlife at risk. It spreads so rapidly it is not possible for our native flora to compete and in some sites 100% of native wildflowers – species like celandines and primroses – have been eradicated. American Skunk-cabbage is popular for its spring flowers (left) but the huge leaves that follow can eradicate all native ground flora (right New Forest).

3) Seven species of non-native freshwater crayfish are established in Britain. North American Signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) escaped from crayfish farms and are now widespread and abundant. They consume aquatic invertebrates, plants, fish eggs and fry, and damage river banks by burrowing. They transmit crayfish plague, to which the globally endangered white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius paillipes), our only native species, is highly susceptible. Signal crayfish also compete with White-clawed crayfish for food and habitat. In many areas our indigenous crayfish is now virtually extinct. The cost of controlling signal crayfish and repairing the damage they cause is over £2 million per annum. £300,000 was recently spent on safe haven ‘Ark sites’ to protect threatened populations of White-clawed crayfish from the advance of Signal crayfish.


This Press Release is supported by the following organisations:

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust
Angling Trust
Buglife – the Invertebrate Conservation Trust
National Trust
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
The Rivers Trust
The Wildlife Trusts
Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
The Woodland Trust

Notes to editors
1. Wildlife and Countryside Link (Link) is a coalition which brings together 47 voluntary organisations concerned with the conservation and protection of wildlife and the countryside. Our members practise and advocate environmentally sensitive land management, and encourage respect
for and enjoyment of natural landscapes and features, the historic and marine environment and biodiversity. Taken together our members have the support of over 8 million people in the UK and manage over 750,000 hectares of land.
2. Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Invasive Non-Native Species Group comprises environmental organisations who, together with relevant bodies, work to address the threats invasive non-native species present to native species in Britain.

For more information contact:
Justina Simpson Plantlife Publicity Manager, 07584995929,
Gemma Hogg RSPB Media Relations Manager,,
Mark Simpson, WWT National PR Manager
Conservation, 01453 891138/07825890590
Sheila Wren, Link Hd Policy and Campaigns, 0207 8208600,

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