Yesterday, Saturday 25th January, I got up at crack of dawn (not that there was any sunshine) in order to head into darkest Somerset where I had booked a place at the Asian Hornet Training Day at Bridgwater. I was hoping it would be good as I had ended a holiday a day early to fit it in. In case you’re wondering, no we’re not trying to train Asian hornets but to train people how to identify them and locate their nests.
The event was organised by Lynne Ingram on behalf of the South West Beekeepers’ Forum and there were getting on for 150 people present, members of local BKA Asian Hornet Action Teams, from as far apart as Bath and Jersey, West Cornwall and Hampshire. I guesstimate I was about the average age.
Peter Darley, the SWBKA Chairman introduced us to the subject. We didn’t need introducing to each other as we all had name badges and, through DARG etc, I knew quite a few anyway. Peter pointed out that most Asian hornets have been spotted by members of the public rather than by beekeepers so we must raise the profile and engage schools, councils etc. and enthuse them in AH hunting. As (currently) they aren’t established, people could develop their skills by tracking wasps or European hornets instead.
Dr Sarah Bunker took to the stage and explained the life cycle of AH through the year: nests, mating behaviour, what to look for and when. The queen emerges from hibernation in March, and, in April, builds a primary nest about 2 inches in diameter in which she lays eggs and raises a few workers. Numbers gradually increase and in June/July the workers build a large secondary nest that might be getting on for 2 feet in diameter. Three quarters of the nests discovered in Jersey have been in man-made structures but they’re also in hedges or high in trees. A couple have been found on cliff faces. Sarah has written The Asian Hornet Handbook about which you can discover more on her website: http://www.asianhornethandbook.com.
Dr Peter Kennedy of Exeter University was next. He updated us on current research. Whereas the European hornet is spread all across Asia, the Asian hornet was, until recently only in part of China. It invaded South Korea in 2003 and arrived with some china pottery in SW France in 2005. It does very well in western Europe so we must try to slow down the spread and minimise the impact.
Juliette Poidatz from France then told us of research on a fungus to target the AH specifically but it will take some time to develop. The hornets strip moss off trees both to make paper for the nests and also to feed on the sap. Bees tell other bees about dangers in their environment, using the ‘stop!’ signal as described by Tom Seeley.
After a coffee break, Simon o’Sullivan of Devon AHAT described The Role of the First Responder. Educate yourself: can you identify the AH, its life cycle and nests throughout the year? Spread the word and educate the public. Carry AH identification cards and visit the AHAT web site. Give talks or suggest others do so. Get in touch with organisations whose members might come in contact with AH, eg farmers, hedge trimmers, ramblers, caravan clubs, garden centres. Confirm reports of sightings, make contacts and get people on side. Keep a record: name and address, location, date, grid reference or What3words. ask the experience of the caller, arrange a meeting, take photographs, set up a bait station with Suterra (renamed Trappit now) . Positive engagement: get a photo or a sample, send a report to NNSS (Non-native species secretariat I think). Email photo, location and details to: email@example.com. Report back to your county coordinator. What next? Keep within the law: no catch and release, no trespassing, confidentiality.
Next came the first workshop. We had a choice of 5: a) Understanding the characteristics of the Asian Hornet in the field. b) Practical tracking including compass skills. c) Use of maps for tracking including digital maps. d) Monitoring traps – What? When? Where? (traps/bait stations/wicked traps). e) Radio telemetry. I chose a.
This was led by Gerry Stuart of the Torbay AHAT. Nests are never far from a source of water. The queen is not aggressive when building the primary nest. When re-located to a secondary nest she lays about 100 eggs a day. Workers lick the queen to clean her. Workers fly about 100 metres a minute. If you find a nest that is potentially dangerous to the public, notify the Police and the Council. A shallow bowl with a couple of tablespoons of Sunterra/Trappit on a tissue is fine. Put a stone or two in it both the weigh the tissue down and to provide something for the hornet to stand on. They’re easy to catch when feeding. They don’t fly in bee-lines but tend to follow roads and hedges then go through gaps.
Lunch break and nattering. Then Alastair Christie, the AH Coordinator from Jersey told us of the experience of AH on their island, which is only about 15 miles from France. In 2017 they found 5 primary and 3 secondary nests, 2018, 13 of each, 2019, 69 primary and 27 secondary. Health and Safety: never look for nests alone! They’re looking for more volunteers to help them in the battle. You will have to find your own way there but accommodation can be provided by Jersey beekeepers. If you’re intereted, contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
Then we did our second chosen workshop. I went to D: monitoring traps. We were shown a digital camera mounted on a post above a baited bowl and film from it showing wasps on the bait. The camera only films when it detects movement. I think that’s a bit too technical and expensive for most of us. We were shown various types of traps and bait stations. Most popular, apart from the bowl already described, was to have a small amount of bait in a jar with a wick of J cloth coming up through a hole in the lid. Trappit is not cheap and this doesn’t waste or spill it. The French make their own bait of 50:50 white wine and beer with a dash of vinegar to deter bees.
After a tea break we split into groups depending on the colour of our badges and were to debate plans for the future and come up with ideas and then we rejoined in the main hall to report back.
The first group discussed monitoring traps and lures. It should go national, not just the SW. Bulk purchase Trappit for all the SW counties. Start monitoring and trapping in April. A sponge in the trap will prevent drowning natives, which can be released. Tell people where to put them. They don’t have to be near beehives as at that time of year the hornets aren’t after the bee protein as much as sweets from nectar. Use video camera.
The second group discussed getting the message out to the public via The Archers, Bill Turnbull on the BBC, members’ updates, cards and posters, conservation trusts, councils, wildlife trusts, Ramblers, walkers, gamekeepers, The Duchy. Make contact at your level. Make sure the message is correct for the time of year. Schools, fetes, garden centres and nurseries.
Third group: What message at national level? Feedback from today at the BBKA event on the 8th February, Funding after Brexit? More training for tracking. National plan needed. Celebrities needed to raise the profile with the public, not just beekeepers.
Fourth group: What additional resources or training are needed? Off the shelf presentation for non-beekeepers. Standard check list for responders. Equipment list for responders. What3words or OS etc. Field day event, localised. Frustration over poor interaction with the NBU. Live training environment in Jersey. Same again next year, especially if the situation changes.
Finally, as 5 o’clock was fast approaching, there was a Question Time session with the main speakers of the day on stage. My stream of notes reads: National plan a good idea but start locally. Jersey funding model invisible. Species funding of £25,000 soon gone. £69,000 spent on removal. NBU would like trapped hornets for analysis as well as photos. What effect will Brexit have on funding? Uncertain. Has there been an economic impact in France through lack of pollinators? Jersey has lots of beekeepers visiting – we’re welcome to do so too. EU report on pollination – numbers and calculations on the back of an envelope: no real meaning and no real calculations yet. Only one nest with gynes found in Jersey.
Not very easy to distinguish castes. Workers vary in size throughout the season. Males have longer, swept back, amtennae. Male backside blunter with two yellow balls.
Jersey nest removal process. Getting up a hoist if access available. Daytime gently remove branches. Go back at night and bag up the nest and remove it to a freezer to kill them. Sometimes pesticides are used.
New Forest: what’s the NBU doing? Lack of information from the NBU about single fliers found elsewhere. Answer – it’s dealt with by FERA and the information doesn’t get down to the NBU. The New Forest hornets were related to the French population and not linked to each other. All from separate populations and not established colonies.
It was a LONG day, well spent, and hence this LONG blog post! It was also a long drive home through fog on the hills.