Chris Packham on the Asian hornet: there are bigger enemies than these bovver buzzers

<span>The Asian hornet now appears to be established in the UK.</span><span>Photograph: Biosphoto/Alamy</span>
The Asian hornet now appears to be established in the UK.Photograph: Biosphoto/Alamy

The Asian hornet has rapidly become the grey squirrel or the Japanese knotweed of the UK’s insect fauna.

From the panicked response to the appearance of this insect, one would think it was a giant monster. In fact, Asian hornets are smaller than native UK hornets and can be identified by their orange faces, yellow-tipped legs and darker abdomens. Their diet is other flying insects, and they will hover outside beehives and munch up huge numbers.

An invader to UK shores, first spotted there in 2016, this invertebrate, which is originally from Asia but is believed to have reached France at the beginning of the millennium in a cargo ship, is vilified, loathed and persecuted for being in the wrong place.

Now, they are thought to be established in the UK after the earliest-ever sighting this year, which suggests a queen hornet overwintered there. Entomologists fear this means it is now impossible to eradicate them, and leading the assault are beekeepers, who understandably don’t like insects that eat bees.

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I think this is not altogether a reason to vilify a creature; for example many have been enjoying the colourful bee-eater birds that have been nesting in the UK more regularly of late owing to climate change.

In fact, “our own” native hornet eats bees, and ate mine all summer long last year, but never affected the hives.

Though the Asian hornet has a brutally effective way of dispatching bees and there are some shocking videos of the invader sitting outside hives to decapitate unsuspecting workers, there are more pressing issues facing our pollinators.

Understandable fear for the bees has caused a frenzy around the Asian hornet, and with any more panic from the apiarists it is likely the government will draw up a plan to deport all the loathed insects to Rwanda.

But is it just me, or has anyone else noticed there is a global biodiversity crisis and there are much more pressing issues to worry about than a little less honey? What about the vast cocktail of chemical pesticides sprayed over our landscape? The UK government has just allowed – for the fourth time – the use of a bee-killing pesticide banned for use in the EU.

This, it is important to note, will kill far more of our pollinators than these beautiful and brutal bovver buzzers.

  • Welcome to the Guardian’s UK invertebrate of the year competition. Between 2 April and 12 April we are profiling incredible invertebrates that live in and around the UK. At midnight on Friday 12 April, voting will open to decide which is our favourite invertebrate – for now – with the winner to be announced on Monday 15 April