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Veteran forensic detective takes up unusual new hobby after his retirement: ‘It gets you hooked’

“To me, this is like scene-of-the-crime work — going to one scene after another.”

John De Carteret hornet hunter

Photo Credit: Facebook / John De Carteret

Retired forensic detective John De Carteret leads a relentless group of hornet hunters who work to stop the spread of invasive insects on the Channel Islands, which are located between France and the British mainland. 

After three decades of police work, De Carteret now applies his skills of observation and eye for detail to thwart the growth of the islands’ worrisome Asian hornet population.

The Jersey Asian Hornet Group (JAHG) is a small-but-effective coalition of about two dozen volunteers made up mostly of retirees dedicated to detecting and destroying the nests of the voracious predators. 

The large hornets are believed to have stowed away in plant pots from China bound for France in 2004, which then rapidly spread throughout mainland Europe. De Carteret and the JAHG defend a critical gateway to the main islands of Britain.

Asian hornets (Vespa velutina) are vicious predators of honeybees and other flying insects. They are identified by their orange faces, narrow black wings, yellow legs, and the black-and-yellow stripes at the rear of their underside. 

The hornets have been observed hovering outside of beehives, picking off workers and instilling a fear in the bees that stops them from foraging, eventually leading to colony collapse. 

Honeybees, in particular, are essential pollinators that play a critical role in global food security, according to the United Nations.

On the frontline against the invading hornets, De Carteret and the JAHG are authorized by the government to catch and release Asian hornets using a variety of low and hi-tech strategies, from traditional hanging traps that must be checked daily to advanced radio tags that can lead the hornet hunters to a nest by following a tagged insect.

“To me, this is like scene-of-the-crime work — going to one scene after another,” De Carteret told the Guardian. “It gets you hooked.”

The hornet hunter posts daily updates on his popular Facebook page detailing the number of nests and queens found on the island. The Facebook page is an important resource for educating the community on how to identify the predators and slow the spread of this invasive species.

To De Carteret and the JAHG, success lies in keeping hornet numbers at manageable levels, and this year could be pivotal in maintaining control over the hornet population. If numbers rise too much through the summer, it may become impossible to track individual hornets to their nests, the Guardian reported.

Through thorough record-keeping and robust education, De Carteret implores the Jersey community to join forces with the JAHG in identifying and catching the predators. Their efforts remain vital to the protection of the United Kingdom’s native bee population and the well-being of other local insects. 

“More volunteers are always welcome,” De Carteret recently wrote on Facebook. “Consider this: 474 Queens and 56 nests are what has been achieved so far by just a quarter of 1% of the population, so just think what 1%, 5% or more could achieve.”

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