The warm weather this spring has been perfect for the reintroduction of Britain’s rarest bumblebee.
The short-haired bumblebee has been gently brought back to British fields over the last two years and the time is right for the latest set of queens to be released in Kent.
Collected in Sweden earlier in May, the bees’ new home is the RSPB reserve in Dungeness. It is hoped that this year’s batch of queen bees will spark a self-sustaining population at the site.
Although worker short-haired bumblebees were spotted at the site following last year’s release, no queens have yet been recorded.
Project officer Dr Nikki Gammans said, “The signs are good – there are a lot 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.
“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.”
The short-haired bumble bee became extinct in Britain in 1988. Prior to its reintroduction, it was last recorded at Lydd in Kent, close to the Dungeness reserve.
It is being revived in a project funded and run by Natural England in conjunction with the RSPB, Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Hymettus. Local farmers have also helped to create a bee friendly environment in the area.
Humphrey Crick, Principle Specialist in Conservation Ecology at Natural England said, “From the outset local farmers have been involved in a co-ordinated program of habitat development to create the ideal conditions for a range of species, including the newly arrived short-haired bumblebees.
“We’re delighted that this integrated approach is bringing such encouraging results. It's a great example of how farmers and conservationists can work together to bring back something special to our countryside.”
There are 24 other species of bumblebee in the UK. These include seven threatened species that are priorities for conservation action.
Two species have become extinct: Cullem’s bumblebee, which disappeared more than 70 years ago, and the short-haired bumblebee.
British bee numbers have been in decline over recent years and it is more important that ever that these vital elements of the environment are able to pollenate our plants.