Warm spring boost rarest bumblebee


Warm spring conditions should help Britain's rarest bumblebee as wildlife experts reintroduce a new batch of queens to help boost the species.

Types of bees in Norfolk gardens. Source and pictures: Nick Owens

Types of bees in Norfolk gardens. Source and pictures: Nick Owens - Credit: Archant

The short-haired bumblebee vanished from the UK in 1988, having suffered declines over the previous 60 years as its habitat was lost, and was officially declared extinct in 2000.

A scheme to reintroduce the species has seen experts collecting short-haired bumblebee queens from Sweden, where they are found in good numbers, and releasing them at the RSPB's reserve at Dungeness, Kent.

The first generation of queens collected and released in 2012 struggled in the cold, wet conditions that summer.

Worker short-haired bumblebees were spotted at the site following last year's release, but no queens have yet been recorded, although the team behind the project hope this year they will start to see signs of a self-sustaining population.

Dr Nikki Gammans, project officer, said: 'The signs are good - there are lots of wild flowers coming into bloom thanks to the work of the local farming community and gardeners.

'We have already spotted other very rare species in the area including the ruderal bumblebee and the red-shanked carder bee.

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'With short-haired bumblebee workers being spotted last year and a new batch ready to go out, there are high hopes for the future of the species.

'We managed to collect all the queens in just two-and-a-half days in Sweden and the warm spring has brought the release date forward by two weeks.

'A lot of people are following the fortunes of the bumblebees now both in Kent and further afield in the UK and in Sweden, and it's fantastic talking to so many people who care so much about our threatened bumblebees.'

The conservation project to bring back the bee has involved work with farmers to create flower-rich meadows and field margins in Dungeness and Romney Marsh, which have boosted populations of other threatened bumblebees.

Of 25 native bumblebee species, seven are in decline and two have become extinct, including the short-haired bumblebee, but the reintroduction project offers hope for bumblebees across the UK, wildlife groups said.

The scheme is a collaboration between Natural England, the RSPB, Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Hymettus, with Royal Holloway, University of London screening the imported queens for disease before they are released.