Islands Asian hornet hit squad winning war on alien invasion marching on UK

Asian hornets have killed humans in their wake and massacred millions of our beloved bees since invading Europe as an alien predator.

Each summer Brits are warned of an onslaught of terrorising bugs that won't think twice before unleashing an agonising sting if provoked, and a "crazy" surge in the English Channel suggests this year will be no different.

First arriving in Bordeaux, France with a pottery shipment from China in 2004, black and yellow winged-beasts that pack a mighty 6mm stinger, have wreaked havoc and heartbreak.

READ MORE: Asian hornets bound for mainland Britain after population booms in Jersey

Native to China's mountainous regions, the Asian hornet is plaguing France, Spain and travelling even further afield en masse where they are decimating helpless insects and with it eco-systems.

One island which is winning the war is Guernsey, a self-governing British Crown dependency, 27 miles off the coast of France.

To find out how the 24sq mile Channel Island is not just keeping a lid on Asian hornets but fearlessly taking them on, the Daily Star flew the short journey from London Gatwick to meet the two main men leading the fight back.

Collecting me from St Peter Port after fog very nearly forced a return flight to the UK, was Francis Russell who together with the state of Guernsey has co-ordinated the island's Asian hornet action plan.

"This year it’s gone absolutely crazy," Francis said, explaining how the usual nine or 10 queens spotted by this time of year has sky-rocketed to 32.

In the boot of his Volvo estate was a collection of what is no longer his secret weapon against the pests, carefully designed traps that we later collected more of on a drive down winding country roads to volunteers' gardens.

The team are not messing about with a trap laid every 50metres across the island. Without them, Francis reckons they would face around 797 nests per year in Guernsey.

"If we stop trapping so effectively, it could cost £157,000 to fix and the UK could be swarmed too from southern counties up to Scotland," Francis told the Daily Star.

Our visit coincided with the later weeks of the 'Spring Queening' campaign which encourages residents to dial the hornet hotline if they spot a likely coloniser between 17 and 32mm long.

Francis explains just how dangerous queens in particular are: they make a primary nest before hundreds of slave-like workers swarm in to build a second by any means necessary.

Catch one queen in spring and it could prevent the birth of 300 virgin queens come autumn.

Humans should be scared of an Asian hornet attack but not nearly as much as local bees.

"It's quite macabre," Francis says. "They're not fussy. They bite off a bee's head, legs and then chew on its flight muscles and take back to nest like preparing a burger."

Staggeringly one nest alone scoffs the equivalent weight of a small dog in just one season. Little wonder Asian hornets' eyes even light up at meaty road kill.

A test tube graveyard of trapped and exterminated Asian hornets had been casually assembled on Francis and colleague Damian Harris' desk ready for me to gawk at in disgust.

This would hopefully be the closest I got to the deadly insect during my 24 hours in Guernsey.

"On a primary nest at this time of year, it's usually just the queen in there to probably around 100 workers so what we'll do is have a look around the nest and make a decision on whether we can deal with it straight away.

"If it's just the queen in which case it's as simple as getting a jam jar, waiting for the queen to come in, get the lid on it and it's as simple as that, that then goes into the freezer and job done.

"If it's more active we do have chemical sprays, with a full suit on."

Damian described the suit they wear as some kind of impenetrable armour that was all but stab and bulletproof, so naturally I needed to give it a whirl as I hit the road with Francis.

He explained: "It's a really thick suit with elasticated ankles so they can't sting you that way. Everything's reinforced, the zips are protected. Even the visor we got first when we first started that Asian hornets can actually squirt venom in your face, no one had ever seen this until Jersey last year.

Donning the extremely hot protective gear I felt invincible and ready to march on a nest but fortunately for local bees, my extra pair of hands weren't needed.

Secretary of Guernsey's Beekeeping Association, Debbie Cox heaped praise on the work of Francis and Damian.

"The State of Guernsey Asian hornet team have been absolutely brilliant, we're so grateful, they've been amazing."

A quick glance at the situation in neighbouring island Jersey is proof of just how effective Francis and co's work has been.

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