"Invasion of Killer Wasps" Evening Standard July 14th 2006

Summer holiday makers were warned today of a sharp rise in deaths from killer wasps, bees or hornets.

Latest figures issued today show that the number of people dying or being admitted to hospital after being stung has soared, the standard can reveal.

Experts warned that warmer weather is bringing more people out into their gardens - and allowing wasp numbers to rise.  The next two days are predicted to be “the perfect summer weekend”, with temperatures set to hit 24C tomorrow, rising to 26C by Sunday.

Eight people died from insect stings in 2004, compared with an average of two for the
previous four years.

Possibilities for the sudden increase include an explosion in the number of new invasive species of aggressive wasps from the continent, a growing number of hornets in Britain, or more agricultural workers being stung.

Professor Lars Chittka, an expert in behavioural ecology at Queens Mary College, University of London, said an invasive wasp species, Dolichovespula media, has been spreading across Britain since the mid-nineties.  He added: “They build nests in shrubs, often in gardens, and are actively patrolling the nests”. Professor Chittka also stressed that the hornet population is increasing in Britain, and although they are quite docile, they do have a vicious sting.

The latest figures show 843 people were admitted for medical care in 2004/5 after being stung by wasps, bees or hornets, compared with 369 the previous year.  The growing use of bees for pollination in commercial greenhouses may also be putting workers at risk.

Martin Tovey, secretary of the British Bee Keepers` Association, suspects that the rise in stings is likely to be due to the wasps.  He said: “We had a large incidence of wasps… a very strong population.”
Roger Key, senior invertebrate biologist at English Nature, believes a bumper fruit crop that year may have led to thousands of wasps becoming “drunk” and more aggressive. Wasps feed off fallen, rotting fruit.  He stressed the ideal scenario for wasps was a hard winter, to prevent diseases, followed by a warm spring and a mild autumn. “If you have a good fruit year you can end up with a lot of aggressive, drunk wasps hanging around in the autumn,” Mr Key added.

MP’s urged the government to give the public more information about how to deal with stings.  Liberal Democrat health spokesman Steve Webb said: “The Government needs to make sure information for parents is available on what to do if a child is stung.”  The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was not aware of any increase in aggressive species.

By Nicholas Cecil, Political Correspondent