Rare bumblebee reintroduced to UK

 

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A bumblebee which vanished from the English countryside almost a quarter of a century ago has been reintroduced.

Around 100 short-haired bumblebees (Bombus subterraneus) were brought across from Sweden to repopulate areas where it previously thrived in the UK, and around 50 of the healthiest were released at the RSPB's Dungeness reserve in Kent.

The conservation project to bring back the bee has involved the creation of flower-rich meadows and field margins in the landscape, which have boosted populations of other threatened bumblebees.

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

Although it vanished from this country, small populations have clung on in the South Island of New Zealand after being transported there on the first refrigerated lamb boats in the late 19th century to pollinate crops of red clover.

But efforts to transport queens back from the other side of the world failed in 2009 when the bees died before they made it out of quarantine.

For the latest reintroduction attempt, conservationists turned to a healthy population of the bee living in the southern Swedish province of Skane.

Queen bees were captured using bee nets at the end of April for the Natural England-backed project, which is also supported by the RSPB, Hymettus and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

They were placed in temporary hibernation and brought over to a quarantine facility at the Royal Holloway University in Surrey, where they were checked over before being released.

In the UK, the conservationists have been working with farmers across Romney Marsh and Dungeness over the past three years to create flowering field margins suitable for bees.

RSPB conservation director Martin Harper said: "We have put a lot of work here recreating flower meadows which are vital if we are going to bring bumblebees back to our countryside.

"This area was the last place the short-haired bumblebee was recorded before it disappeared 24 years ago, so it is very exciting to see it finally coming home.

"But this is just the start - we will all be working hard to make sure this, and other threatened bumblebee species, expand their ranges and recolonise south eastern England."

Dr Nikki Gammans, the project officer, said that reintroducing species into the UK had worked in the past with the red kite and the large blue butterfly.

"It's a really exciting new scientific procedure, something which hadn't been attempted before with bumblebees," she told BBC Breakfast.

"It's very exciting for the bee species to get a second chance."

PA

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