An extinct species of bumblebee (Bombus Subterraneus), which has not been seen in the UK for over 20 years, is being re-introduced in Kent. The RSPB has arranged for 100 queen bees to be bought over from Sweden and placed at their reserve in Dungeness in an attempt to bring them back into the English countryside.
The decline of wild flowers as a result of increase in agriculture after WW2 has been named as the reason for the decline in numbers over the past 60 years, until being declared extinct in 2000. However, in Sweden where the population is much lower and agriculture is more ‘bee-friendly’, the bees are able to thrive in their natural environment. Conservationists were permitted to collect 100 queen shorthaired bees in order for the project to get under way.
The bees were kept in quarantine at Royal Holloway University in Surrey for 2 weeks to acclimatise them to their new environment, where they were tested for any parasites. Preparation for the bee’s arrival has taken the best part of three years; the encouragement of wild flowers to grow has been of paramount importance.
Local farmers have been drafted in to help with the project, they have been asked to leave corners of their fields uncut to encourage the growth of wild plants to attract this species of bee when they are released. This has proved to benefit other endangered bee species, as they have extended their ranges to the new wild flowers.
This effort to reintroduce the bees is through baited breath, a previous attempt in 2009 using bees from New Zealand failed. Scientists stated they lacked genetic diversity, many dying during the hibernation period. However, the Swedish bees have been given a predicted survival rate of 20-30%, which is a common survival rate for queens.
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This project is very important to the UK as many of our crops rely on pollination and figures suggest that bees contribute nearly £400 million to the UK economy.
Credit: Nikki Gammans (rspb-images.com)