These photographs show the intricate and beautiful nest that they made. A better camera than mine would be needed for detailed photos of the insects themselves, but there are good images of the European Hornet, Vespa crabro, if you search online.
The European Hornet is the largest of the Vespidea, or wasp family, that nests in Britain. The individuals can be around three cm long and they have brown and yellow stripes, instead of the black and yellow stripes of the smaller and more aggressive Common Wasp.
Theses hornets make their nests by fashioning them out of paper, which they make from chewed wood. They prefer to nest in hollow trees or in old chimneys. By choosing the hole at the base of a partially rotten branch of the cherry tree, they would have found shelter and a ready supply of soft and rotting wood. The nest faced north, away from the prevailing south westerly winds that can whip across the fields, and away harsh rays of a hot, mid summer sun.
We watched from a respectful distance as the hornets built their nest. They seemed to ignore our presence, so we decided to tolerate theirs.
Underneath the cherry tree is one of our raised beds for growing vegetables. If we gardened quietly, or if I walked past silently with a wheelbarrow full of hay for the animals, the wasps would carry on about their business.
The finished nest was a fine and delicate structure. We would watch the hornet workers flying in and out through the bottom of the nest, taking in food for the larvae inside.
Summer came to an end. The hornets grew slow and dozy as temperatures fell. With the first frosts, the colony died and the nest began to fall apart and rot away. Somewhere, a hornet queen will be hibernating, but all her workers would have died before the snows arrived.
As the nest disintegrated, distinct layers of nest cells could be seen, like the storeys in a tall building. Ants, flies and blue tits picked away at the nest and wet weather seemed to melt its structure away.
Exposed to the air, the beautiful papery hexagons inside.
In the worst weather, the remnants of the nest were covered by icy snow. After the thaw, nothing remains but a deeper, darker hole in the cherry tree, just underneath a lower branch. Now we are wondering if the branch will survive another spring, or if the hornet queen will return to begin another colony next summer.