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Bee-Eating Hornets Are the Latest Threat to British Agriculture

There’s more bad news for honeybees as the UK’s Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs confirms a sighting of the bee-eating Asian hornet in Gloucestershire.
Photo via Flickr user Paul Rollings

Honeybees just can't seem to catch a break.

Greenpeace estimates that the UK has lost 45 percent of its commercial bee population since 2010 and last month, scientists confirmed that pesticide use is linked to the long term decline of the wild bee population.

And now, there's more bad news for bees.

On Tuesday, the UK's Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) confirmed a sighting of the Asian hornet in Gloucestershire. The hornets don't pose a risk to humans, but they do have an insatiable appetite for bees.


READ MORE: Scientists Have Yet More Evidence That Pesticides Are Bad News for Bees

In a sound-all-the-alarms response, the National Bee Unit (yes, it's an actual thing) sprung into a Ghostbusters-style operation. They set up a three-mile surveillance area around the town of Tetbury, deployed bee inspectors, and readied nest disposal experts.

DEFRA said in a statement that it had been anticipating the arrival of the hornets after the insects began spreading rapidly in mainland Europe. It is thought that they first made their way to France after being stowed in a pottery delivery from China.

The rapid reaction to the hornet sightings isn't without good reason. The insect's arrival signals a significant threat to the already declining population of a species that plays a vital role in UK agriculture. According to the British Beekeeper's Association, 70 percent of crops in the UK are dependent on, or benefit from, pollination from bees.

READ MORE: Bees Might Be Keeping Us Alive, But They're Also Completely Delicious

Speaking to the Guardian, Matt Shardlow, chief executive of conservation charity Buglife, agreed. He said: "It's really bad news. The ecological impact is that it potentially affects our ability to feed ourselves in the future."

The hornet isn't going to kill us, but its impact on the bee could leave us all feeling a sting.