Dungeness bumblebee hopes rest on 50 Swedish queens
Conservationists are hoping a third release of queen bees in Kent will start a self-sufficient population of a species once extinct in Britain.
About 50 short-haired bumblebee queens from Sweden have been released at the RSPB's Dungeness reserve.
Worker bees bred from a batch released in 2013 were recorded last year, but no new queens were found.
The first batch of Swedish queens released in 2012 struggled in that summer's cold, wet conditions.
The RSPB said 2014's warm spring made conditions this year ideal for Britain's rarest bumblebee.Screened for disease
"We are hoping to recreate a self-sustainable, self-sufficient population," said project leader Dr Nikki Gammans.
"In 2013 we got our first workers, which was a really positive sign, but as the population starts to build up we will be able to test the DNA of all of the workers and then we know which queens have survived from which years.
"We will have to wait a few years to see how they are establishing."
The 2014 queens were collected earlier this month in Sweden by a team of scientists and volunteers.
They were taken to Royal Holloway University of London in Egham, Surrey to be screened for disease before being released.
A colony normally has just one adult queen, which is the mother of most, if not all, of its bees.
The short-haired bumblebee started dying out in Britain in the 1980s and officially became extinct in 2000 because of the loss of its wildflower-rich grassland habitat.
Its last recorded home was in Dungeness and Romney Marsh.
The RSPB is working with farmers, landowners and gardeners in the Dungeness area to re-establish a flower-rich habitat.