Record sightings of Asian hornets has prompted warnings of a potential catastrophe for Britain’s honey bee population.
There have been 22 confirmed sightings of the invasive species so far this year which is more than over the last six years combined.
The startling figure compares to only two confirmed sightings of Asian hornets in 2022, two in 2021 and just one in 2020.
News of the rise in sightings comes after scientists warned invasive species are travelling around the world at “unprecedented rates” because of humans.
Alien species are threatening native plants and animals with extinction while damaging human health and livelihoods, according to the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
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Scientists are concerned climate change will make conditions in Britain favourable for alien species and are particularly wary of the Asian hornet as its sting can cause an allergic reaction in some people.
They are native to southeast Asia, but can be moved around the world in cargo. Widespread in mainland Europe, they can arrive in Britain after being blown across the English Channel.
Dr Gavin Broad from the Natural History Museum told the BBC: “We are transporting all sorts of plants and animals – fungi even – outside of their native ranges to places where the local environment has not evolved along with them, so they cause many threats to food security, to our native animals and plants.”
The economic cost of invasive species has risen to more than £300billion a year across the world.
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The Government insists the risk to human health of Asian hornets is no greater than other wasps or hornets. The hornets do, however, kill wasps and honey bees, which are their preferred prey.
But the critters can damage honey bee colonies. The public is being urged to be extra vigilant and to report any sightings immediately. It is important to take care not to approach or disturb a nest.
Scientists are urging people to be on the lookout for invasive species, including the Asian hornet, and to report them so they can be eradicated.
Professor Helen Roy, of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and one of the IPBES report’s co-chairs, said: “We are talking in this particular context, not about those range-expanding species that are native, but about invasive alien species that are being moved by humans at really unprecedented rates and then we’re mixing them together in different ways.
“Of course, extinction is such an important thing to be considering, but also it’s really important to think about the extinction of interactions, when one species is displacing another or reducing its numbers to such very low abundance.”
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Prof Roy added: “We are causing ecological changes that perhaps will lead to really quite unpredictable outcomes in terms of the functioning of these ecosystems and the benefits we receive from them.”
The Assessment Report on Invasive Alien Species and their Control took four years to compile with 86 scientists from 49 countries reviewing thousands of documents while hearing from indigenous communities, some of which are struggling to hold on to their cultural identities because of biological invasions.
The scientists estimate invasive species have caused or contributed to 60 per cent of global extinctions, with nearly all of them on islands, which are the most vulnerable because they have unique ecologies which may have had no contact with the rest of the world for thousands of years before humans arrived.
Governments around the world have committed to protecting 30 percent of the Earth’s land and seas for nature by 2030, and 143 of them have approved the new IPBES report as providing some of the scientific knowledge towards achieving that goal.
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