‘Massively concerning’: 2023 sees record number of Asian hornet sightings

There have been 35 confirmed sightings of Asian hornets so far this year, DEFRA has announced – more than all previous years combined, sparking concerns that the species is “moving and spreading”.

Asian hornets were inadvertently brought to France in 2004, with the RSPB reporting that this was most likely in a shipment of goods imported from Asia. 

In France, the species has consumed large numbers of bees, including the European honey bee and many other solitary and colonial bee species. 

The Asian hornet was discovered in the UK in 2016 and after 10 days of searching, the nest was found and later destroyed.

Since then there have been 58 confirmed sightings in the UK, with 35 of these happening this year. Twenty-two of these sightings occurred in August, according to DEFRA. 

This marks a significant increase from the previous year, when there were just two confirmed sightings. The second highest year for sightings was 2018 when there were nine confirmed.

David Smith, social change and advocacy officer at charity Buglife, told ENDS that the increase in sightings is “massively concerning” and highlighted that “it will only take a few of them to hibernate for the same thing to happen again next year, continuing an exponential spread from there”.  

The majority of the sightings this year have been in Kent (24), according to Smith this is to be expected as the county is closest to continental Europe and warmer and drier on the whole. 

Other sightings have been recorded in port areas - for example there were two sightings in Portland, Dorset. 

Smith highlighted that this represents a concern around biosecurity and said that these sightings could indicate that the hornets are being moved through contamination of soils or plants. “We are particularly concerned that there hasn’t been a lot of urgency within government on this pathway”, Smith said.  

August was also the first time ever that an Asian hornet was spotted in London, with one nest subsequently destroyed in Thamesmead on 22 August. Smith told ENDS that this is particularly concerning and could indicate that the species are “moving and spreading”  

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Smith also pointed out that over the past year there has been a significant increase in the number of nests spotted, rather than individual specimens. In 2023, 40 nests have already been destroyed, compared to just one in 2022. 

While highlighting that the work that has been led by the government is “really good and the reporting clearly working”, he said there is still a risk that species are being missed, “invertebrates are very easy to miss, unless you know exactly what you’re looking for [...] It requires surveillance, this is a needle in a haystack kind of thing”, he said.