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Pioneering hornet-hunting technology in use in Jersey

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CUTTING-edge technology invented by scientists at the forefront of the fight to stop the spread of Asian hornets across the British Isles is being used in the Island.

An Asian hornet is numbered at a marking station outside a property in St Saviour. Picture: ROB CURRIE (22047202)

A team from Exeter University led by Dr Peter Kennedy will be working with beekeepers, who are being overwhelmed by a population explosion of the invasive insects this summer.

They will be using electronic radio tags, developed after field trials were conducted in the Island and France, to track the hornets to their nests.

Dr Kennedy and university staff visited Jersey last year to conduct tests working with members of the Jersey Beekeepers Association.

Speaking to BBC national news last month, Dr Kennedy said they capture and sedate the insects to enable them to apply the tags with sewing thread. Once the insects are released their flight can be tracked for up to up 0.8 miles.

‘Our new method of tracking offers a really important tool to tackle the spread of this invader, providing an efficient means of finding hornets’ nests in urban, rural and wooded environments,’ he said.

Local beekeepers and the Environment Department joined forces two years ago after the first confirmed sighting of an Asian hornet at Mount Bingham. Since then they have been working with Exeter University and the UK Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Over the past 14 years, since the invasive insect arrived in the French port of Marseilles in a shipment of flower pots from China, it has spread across western Europe. By 2011 it had reached St Malo.

Nineteen nests have been found in the Island since April. A single nest is home to about 6,000 insects – each of which can kill 50 honey bees in one day – and 200 queens, who are about to breed and prepare to potentially set up thousands of new colonies next year.

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Defra has commended the Island for its role in developing the tracking equipment.

In a letter to Environment Minister John Young, Lord Gardiner, the UK department’s under-secretary for rural affairs and biosecurity writes: ‘This advance does seem to be a positive way of controlling this invader, which would have such an adverse consequence for our bees and, therefore, our natural flora and fauna.

‘I am sure this advance will be beneficial for all of us, [and] it builds on the partnerships already established through our departments’ co-operation on this important issue.’

Deputy Young says he has instructed Environment to increase its Asian hornet awareness campaign so Islanders know what to look for and how to report sightings of individual insects and nests.

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‘I have instructed the department to make the Asian hornet threat a high priority,’ he said.

‘There is no question that this species can make a huge impact on the Island’s pollinating insects and the affects that could have on the environment and growing fruit and other crops.’

Sightings, ideally with a photograph, should be emailed to environment@gov.je or by calling 441600.

Paula Thelwell

By Paula Thelwell
author

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