France, Spain and Italy warning over insect you may bring back

Invasive Asian hornets could be ‘hitch-hiking’ to the UK hidden in vehicles - and motorists are being warned about the threat. A new report this week revealed that a record number of sightings of Asian hornets took place in the UK last year, with the invasive species posing a serious threat to native honey bees and insect pollinators.

The National Bee Unit destroyed 72 nests in 56 locations across 2023, with the majority of cases located in Kent. Now vehicle lease firm Select Car Leasing is urging drivers who might travel to Europe, where the Asian hornet is established, this summer to remain vigilant.

Queen hornets like to hide in sheltered spots - including in caravans and larger vehicles - and could emerge to wreak havoc upon a motorist’s return to Britain. Graham Conway, Managing Director at Select Car Leasing, cautions: “While the Asian hornet isn’t yet established in the UK, and all efforts are being undertaken to ensure that doesn’t happen, the creature has made a home for itself elsewhere in Europe.

“It’s thought that Asian hornets accidentally arrived in France in 2004 after stowing away in a shipment of goods from east Asia. Since that point, the Asian hornet hasn’t just settled in France, it has also flown to other European countries, including Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany.

“And if you plan to travel to those countries in your vehicle this summer, you need to check it thoroughly before getting back on the ferry or Eurotunnel to make sure you’re not inadvertently carrying extra ‘passengers’.

“Asian hornets can hitch-hike in vehicles, caravans, roof racks and trailers, and as more and more travellers get in their cars to head to the Continent, motorists need to be aware of the dangers.”

The Government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency has also previously warned about the risk posed by hitch-hiking hornets. In a blog post to mark British Beekeepers’ Association’s Asian Hornet Week, the agency said: “As Asian hornets can ‘hitchhike’ e.g., on imported goods, or moved in vehicles, they can arrive anywhere as well as being ‘blown-in’ from continental Europe, so please look out for hornets in your area and report your suspected sightings.”

The awareness-raising Asian Hornet Action Team is also concerned about hitch-hiking hornets. It said : “Queen hornets on the Continent hide themselves in sheltered spots to hibernate. Unfortunately, this includes boats, caravans and trucks, so as the traffic resumes, we are likely to see the influx of this invasive insect increase again.”

The British Beekeepers Association hosts an Asian Hornet Sightings and Incursion Map, with the latest update revealing how sightings have been reported as far north as Preston, Lancashire. The report notes state: “The first was in Preston, Lancashire at a warehouse with regular trucks arriving from France.”

The Asian hornet is actually smaller than the UK’s native European hornet and only slightly larger than a typical wasp. The Asian Hornet Action team says that Asian hornets ‘present no greater threat to human health than wasps or the native European hornets’ but ‘under no circumstances should you attempt to disturb a nest as Asian Hornets have been known to defend their nest area aggressively.’.

Select Car Leasing’s Graham Conway adds: “All flying insects can pose a serious distraction risk to motorists, whether the animals are native to the UK or not!

“If a wasp, bee or hornet somehow finds its way into your car while you’re driving, it’s crucial that you remain calm and try not to panic, before slowing down and pulling over as soon as it’s safe to do so. Once you’ve stopped, open all of the doors and windows and wait for the insect to find its own way out.

“And if you’re extremely nervous about insects of a yellow and stripy persuasion, it might be best to leave the windows rolled up and the air conditioning on.”