Asian Hornet Watch app unleashed to counter threat from invasive species
A free smartphone app has been released to counter the threat of the Asian Hornet. The tool allows users to report sightings of this dangerous invasive insect species that is threatening the environment and killing British honeybees.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has launched the new Asian Hornet Watch app to help safeguard the environment by allowing users to report sightings of the hornet species that is killing bees.
The app was developed to stop the spread of the Asian hornet (Vespa velutina); an invasive species that was first spotted in the Tetbury area of Gloucestershire in September 2016.
The Asian hornet can be up to one inch (2.5cm) long and has become common in Europe after it was accidentally brought into France in 2004 with a shipment of pottery arriving from China.
The species spread quickly across Western Europe and its arrival in the UK was highly expected, as it had already been spotted in the Channel Islands of Jersey and Alderney last summer.
Asian hornets can be recognised from the colour of their abdomen, which is entirely dark except for a single yellow band, contrarily to European hornets that have mostly yellow abdomens.
Although the hornet poses no particular threat to human beings, it can have detrimental effects on the environment, as it preys on pollinating insects such as honeybees, which are not yet equipped to cope with the evolutionary threat.
Environment Department (Defra) Minister Lord Gardiner said: “This innovative new app is designed to be easy to use and allows people to report quickly any possible sightings of Asian hornets, which will help us to halt their spread. This invasive species poses a threat to our native honey bees and we must do all we can to encourage vigilance - this new technology will advance this.”
The app also helps users understand whether an insect is actually an Asian hornet, providing background information and images that help identify the species.
Since its first UK sighting in Gloucestershire, bee inspectors have been using infrared cameras and traps to locate and destroy nests around the area where the first hornet was spotted.
Martin Smith, public affairs manager at the British Beekeepers’ Association, said: “This app is a welcome addition to current reporting methods that have enabled beekeepers and members of the public to report possible sightings.”
The most important step to ensure that an invasive species such as the Asian hornet does not spread is to catch outbreaks early, so that the government can act to eradicate it.
“The key to containment is catching outbreaks as early as possible and allowing fast tracking of the insects back to their nest,” said Smith. “We will certainly be encouraging all our 25,000 beekeepers to install the app and use it if they see what might be an Asian hornet near their hives.”
More information is available from the Defra web site, which also includes direct links to Apple and Android online stores where the Asian Hornet Watch app can be downloaded.