Public told to report Asian hornet sightings amid warning of surge in invasive species

People are being urged to report sightings of Asian hornets this summer as nature groups warn of a potential surge in damaging invasive non-native species.

The UK's chief plant health officer Nicola Spence has called for beekeepers and the wider public to report sightings of the hornet after a record number were spotted in the country last year.

Asian hornets pose no greater risk to human health than native hornets but threaten honey bees and insect pollinators.

The insects can eat up to 50 honeybees a day and are almost certainly "breeding and living in the UK", Paul Hetherington, director of communications and engagement at the Buglife charity, warned in March.

The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said the species is not yet established in the UK yet but early trapping is fundamental to eradication efforts.

It comes as the Wildlife and Countryside Link (WCL), which represents 83 nature organisations, warned that recent flooding and warming temperatures have increased the risk of problem species already in the UK growing and spreading.

This includes Japanese knotweed, which can cause structural damage, giant hogweed, with sap that can cause burns to skin, and Himalayan balsam, which out-competes native species and increases flood risks.

The WCL said the volatile conditions have also increased the risk of new species establishing themselves in the UK, like the red imported fire ant, Chinese mitten crab and Chinese mystery snail, which are making their way across Europe.

The coalition is calling for the annual invasive species biosecurity budget to triple to £3m with a further £3m to fund a permanent dedicated invasive species Inspectorate.

Richard Benwell, WCL chief executive, said: "Invasive species are already one of the biggest threats to the UK environment, from smothering waterways to outcompeting native species.

"They also cause billions of pounds in damage a year to homes and businesses, and even pose risks to human health.

The River Trust, Plantlife and Buglife are among the groups in the coalition, which is calling for government action to mark Invasive Non-native Species Week from Monday.

"Investment in a fully-funded inspectorate and a strong invasive species strategy could make a contribution to halting nature's decline and creating a more resilient economy," Mr Benwell said.

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DEFRA said members of the public can report any sightings of the Asian hornet, which have very dark bodies, a wide orange stripe on the abdomen section and yellow leg ends, via the Asian Hornet Watch App.

It added that the National Bee Unit stands ready to respond quickly and effectively to any further possible sightings after attending every credible report last year and destroying 72 nests in 56 locations - mostly in Kent.

A DEFRA spokesperson said: "Invasive species threaten our native biodiversity and cost the economy billions every year, which is why we support the Invasive Species Inspectorate in carrying out their role to protect the nation's biosecurity.

"Through our Invasive Non-Native Species Strategy, we remain committed to going even further to detect, protect and eradicate the threats they pose, while increasing coordination and cooperation with the public, land managers and businesses to deliver this."