Short-haired bumblebee numbers increase at Dungeness

Short-haired bumblebee Image copyright Nick Withers/RSPB/PA
Image caption The short-haired bumblebee is found in good numbers in Sweden but became extinct in the UK

A second attempt to reintroduce an extinct bumblebee to the UK is proving successful, conservationists have said.

Short-haired bumblebee workers have been spotted at Dungeness in Kent over the last three years following the introduction of queens from Sweden.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust said it showed the queens had nested and produced young, and were finding enough food to build colonies.

An attempt to introduce queens from New Zealand failed in 2009.

The bees died before they came out of quarantine, apparently because of genetic weakness in the population and the six-month difference in seasons between the UK and New Zealand.

'Thrilling discovery'

The short-haired bumblebee (Bombus subterraneus) declined in numbers over 60 years as its habitat in the UK was lost. It is found in good numbers in Sweden.

The last naturally occurring specimen was found at Dungeness in 1988 and it was declared extinct in 2000.

Three short-haired bumblebee workers have now been spotted at the RSPB's Dungeness nature reserve on four consecutive days.

"This is a thrilling discovery and shows that conservation for bumblebees really can work," said project manager Dr Nikki Gammans.

"Populations of at least three other rare bumblebees not recorded for over 10 years are now found in locations across the release zone and their abundance is increasing across south Kent and East Sussex."

Farmers and landowners in Dungeness and Romney Marsh are supporting the bumblebee project by managing 2,500 acres of wildflower-rich habitats to provide them with food.

The scheme is a collaboration between Natural England, the RSPB, Hymettus, which advises on bee conservation, and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

Image copyright Not Specified

How Swedish bumblebee scheme caused unwanted buzz

  • The short-haired bumblebee, which was once widespread across the south of England, was declared extinct in the UK in 2000 following a decline in numbers from the 1950s onwards.
  • A "strong" population exists in southern Sweden where there are large areas of wildflower rich grasslands.
  • In 2012, conservationists collected queens from Skåne province in the south of the country with a view to reintroducing the species at RSPB's Dungeness reserve in Kent.
  • Although news of the scheme was heralded as "groundbreaking" in the UK it prompted headlines such as "Skåne bumblebees at risk of extinction" and "The bumblebee thieves" in Sweden.
  • As the swarm of negative coverage increased scientists met residents of Skåne to explain the project to them.
  • The RSPB, one of the organisers of the project, blamed the concern on a "breakdown in communication".
  • Once the negative buzz about the bumblebee project died down, conservationists released dozens of the queens in batches from 2012.

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