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UCC-led project to investigate impact of Asian hornet on ecosystem

Irish beekeepers are being called upon to take part in a research project following news that the Asian hornet has arrived in Ireland.

The project is seen as a crucial line of defence against the hornet, which has already had a significant impact on beekeeping in Europe.

Earlier in May, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) confirmed the invasive species was found in a house in Dublin.

The discovery marked the first identification of the insect in the wild here and the specimen was found "alive but dying" on the northside of the city.

Researchers at University College Cork (UCC) are calling for the help of Irish beekeepers in tackling the problematic insect as part of a European-wide initiative.

The potential of the Hornet to become invasive in Ireland is dependent on its successful establishment of colonies here.

The Asian hornet preys on honeybees, wasps, and other insects, and is already responsible for the loss of almost 50% of beehives in some regions across Europe.

While the hornet does not usually pose a threat to humans, the venom carried in its sting can cause anaphylactic shock in some people, and multiple stings could be dangerous to young children and those with existing health conditions.

Atlantic Positive, a consortium of EU beekeepers and academic institutions, aims to investigate the impact of the hornet and to stop its spread in the Atlantic area.

Led by UCC/BEES/ERI researchers Dr Simon Harrison and Dr Fidelma Butler, supported by Rachel Hayden, Atlantic Positive is asking beekeepers to take part in a survey, the findings of which will inform the future direction of the project in Ireland, and how best to provide information to beekeepers and the public.

According to UCC, the project aims to: 

  • Assess the risk of the Asian hornet in Ireland and the impact it could have on Ireland’s beekeeping and pollination services;
  • Partner with beekeeper associations and bee research groups to provide training and information;
  • Contribute to the creation of a universal Atlantic management strategy.

Dr Harrison said the project wants to know what Irish beekeepers know about the Asian hornet and if they would be willing to share their experiences with their European counterparts.

He said: "Beekeepers are a crucial line of defence in reporting, monitoring, and trapping hornets and their knowledge and input in this project is paramount to its success.” 

UCC researcher Rachel Hayden says institutes across the EU and UK are working together with beekeeper associations, government bodies, and other stakeholders, to share information, research and expertise.

Ms Hayden said: "UCC wants to hear from beekeepers in Ireland to evaluate knowledge gaps and to prepare for the potential threat the Asian hornet brings."

Dr Butler added that while a single specimen is not a cause for alarm, the Asian hornet is an "apex predator" and can have serious impacts on pollinator services and biodiversity.

She said: "Now that it is known that the Asian hornet can and will find pathways to Ireland, further research is needed to work out exactly what could happen if the species is to establish here and how prepared Ireland is to deal with the potential threat."

Beekeepers from all over Ireland and the North are encouraged to take part in this study. Participants must be aged 18 years and over.