Wildlife Column with Prof Ian Rotherham
I get a lot of reader enquiries in autumn and spring when people worry their homes are being invaded by ‘hornets’. However, these are invariably queen wasps seeking somewhere for winter hibernation or summer nest building.
These queens can be quite large and rather noisy; and it may be that you really don’t want a wasp’s nest in your house.
Nevertheless, these are not ‘hornets’ which are altogether bigger and seem to me to have a different ‘attitude’. Hornets appear to have a clear idea of what they are about. Generally if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. Another thing with hornets is that they are essentially warm climate species and therefore rather uncommon in northern and north midlands areas.
They tend to appear during periods of hotter summers like 1975 and 1976, for example, or the mid- to late-1990s too. Queen hornets choose a suitable location for her nest and that is often an old, hollow tree.
This means that places like Sherwood Forest with its old oaks are favoured spots. Furthermore, hornets may come back in subsequent years to use a favourable or traditional nest site.
I was excited to spot a large queen hornet in Whitwell Wood where it was flying very purposefully around one of the glades alongside the main track into the wood.
This was during the warm sunny period in spring and since then the weather has been cool and wet; so I do wonder if that will have put her off. Hornets are generally not especially aggressive, but obviously if they do sting then they carry a bit of a punch!
The other species readers will have heard about is the ‘Asian Hornet’ which is a rare, invasive alien in the process of colonising Britain with recent records such as 9 sightings in 2018 of individual hornets in Lancashire (April) and Hull, three in Cornwall, two in Hampshire, one in Surrey (all September) and the latest in Kent (October). They are smaller than the native but pose a serious threat to honey bees which they predate.
Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues.