Foreigners entering the United Kingdom has been a cause for some concern in recent decades, but a winged “immigrant” recently sighted in Gloucestershire has stirred a hornet’s nest - literally.
This time, the cause for concern is the invasive Asian hornet, which has been sighted for the first time in Britain at Tetbury in Gloucestershire. It kills honey bees, and is officially seen as a threat to Britain’s “native hornet”.
India is within the geographical distribution where the Asian hornet (vespa velutina) is known to live and thrive. It is not known how it arrived in Tetbury, but there are reports it was accidentally introduced in France in 2004 through a shipment of pottery from China.
Britain’s department for environment, food and rural affairs and animal and plant (Defra) has started identifying, destroying and removing any of the Asian hornet’s nests. The work includes setting up a three-mile surveillance zone around Tetbury and opening a control centre to coordinate the response.
The department has deployed bee inspectors across the area who will use infrared cameras and traps to locate any nests. It has also readied nest disposal experts, who will use pesticides to kill the hornets and destroy nests.
Nicola Spence of Defra said: “We have been anticipating the arrival of the Asian hornet for some years and have a well-established protocol in place to eradicate them...We remain vigilant across the country, working closely with the National Bee Unit and their nationwide network of bee inspectors.”
The hornet found in Tetbury is currently undergoing DNA testing at the National Bee Unit in North Yorkshire to help establish how it arrived in Britain.
“The hornet arrived in France in 2004 and is now common across large areas of Europe. It was discovered for the first time in Jersey and Alderney this summer. It is believed the species will not be able survive in the north of the UK due to colder winters,” Defra said.
There has also been some concern over the proliferation of Indian parrots in some areas of the UK, though nobody quite knows if they arrived here during the British Raj or later.
Wild and noisy, the squawking parrots have been the subject of study by several organisations and universities, including Oxford, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the Zoological Society of London.
The parrots native to India have been spreading across southeast Britain and beyond, and are having a significant impact on the foraging habits of small garden birds such as blue tits and blackbirds.
The parrot population boom has been put down to a series of mild winters, lack of natural predators, food being available from humans and the fact that there are now enough parrots for a wider range of breeding partners.
Parrots are mostly concentrated in west and southwest London and the Thames Valley area, and this has given rise to the urban legend that the birds originally escaped from a container at Heathrow airport.
However, experts say parrots have been spotted nesting in Britain since the 19th century. Even though there was a wild population in the 1960s, the numbers remained very low through to the mid-1990s, when the numbers appeared to start increasing more rapidly.
There are concerns the wild parrots could become a pest to farmers or threaten other wildlife. They are known to like fruit and would pose problems for farmers if they move into fruit-growing areas.