Campaigners win funds to save great yellow bumblebee

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A three-year research project to save Britain's rarest species of bee begins in the Outer Hebrides this autumn. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BCT) has been awarded a £28,000 grant from the Scottish Executive to look into protecting the last stronghold of the great yellow bumblebee in Britain.

Once a common sight thought the UK, the insect, which thrives on red clover, has been reduced to living on the outer limits of some Scotland's most remote islands. Changes to land management, which have seen once plentiful fields of red clover abandoned in favour of modern chemical fertilisers, has left the insect clinging to survival along the coasts of Orkney and the Western Isles. While they are able to thrive among the machair, the Gaelic word for the fertile and flower-filled plains found in the isles, the yellow bumblebee is almost extinct elsewhere in the UK and Europe.

"This is probably Britain's rarest bumblebee and the one we are most concerned about, as it is the one most susceptible to environmental change," said Ben Darvill, joint founder of the BCT. "It used to be widespread throughout the UK, but now there are only a few pockets of them living off the machair lands around the coast of the Scottish islands. A slight change to how those last remaining areas are managed to could have a devastating effect."

As part of the Scottish Executive's biodiversity action plan, the BCT is to receive a share of £167,000-worth of grant aid to research the best method of protecting the bees, which are big and yellow with a black stripe across the thorax, in the Western Isles. Other projects receiving funds include initiatives aimed at helping water voles, black grouse and corn buntings.

"Our three-year project should begin in October and it is hoped that we can discover what it is that has allowed the yellow to survive in the machair areas and then devise a land management plant to encourage it back into other parts of the country," said Mr Darvill.