Swarms of killer hornets that have plagued France could cross the Channel to the Westcountry within days.
Giant Asian hornets are responsible for the deaths of six people in France – and experts have warned that they could now be headed to the South of England.
The grim warning is contained in the latest House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report on invasive non-native species.
The British Beekeepers Association says it is "likely" that the deadly insects are heading this way. Their toxic sting can cause death through anaphylactic shock and kidney failure.
They also prey on native honeybees, wasps and other pollinators, potentially devastating hives and threatening honey and crop production.
The hornet is expected to enter Britain either through soil from imported plants or by simply flying across the Channel.
The insects are believed to have made it to France from the Far East in a consignment of Chinese pottery in late 2004. They are thought to have thrived due to a total lack of indigenous predators. As of 2012 the species had colonised 39 of France’s 100 departements.
Last year at least 28 people in China were reported to have been killed by Asian hornets – including a mother and son who were caught in a deadly swarm.
Distinguished by their yellow feet, the hornets grow up to 3cm in length and wield stingers in excess of 6mm in length.
The predators have jaws powerful enough to chew through regular protective bee suits and their venom, which they can spray, dissolves human flesh. If their venom lands in the eyes, the eye tissue will melt, according to a National Geographic documentary.
Contingency plans for the arrival of the Asian hornet are currently being drawn up. Britain currently has an alerting system, with witnesses asked to take pictures and email them along with details of the sightings to the Non Native Species Secretariat.
The British Beekeepers Association said: “Although it is not yet present in the UK, it is considered likely to arrive soon.
"The places it is most likely to be found are in southern parts of England (it may be able to cross the channel from France) or goods among which it could be accidentally imported (such as soil with imported pot plants, cut flowers, fruit and timber.)”