The Bees Are Back In Town
May 28, 2012

The Bees Are Back In Town

Have you heard the latest buzz? A species of bumblebee once thought to be extinct is now being reintroduced to the UK countryside.

According to a report from the BBC, the short-haired bumblebee, or Bombus subterraneus to those in the know, once thrived in the UK just south of England before vanishing in 1988. Recently, a healthy colony of the bumblebee was found in Sweden, allowing conservationists to seed a new colony in their original homestead.

Now, about 50 queen short-haired bumblebees will be released at a Dungeness reserve in Kent County, south east of England. Once there, Dr. Nikki Gammans, project leader of the Short-Haired Bumblebee Project hopes these bees will feed on the plentiful red clover fields and expand into other parts of the country.

"We hope, we believe, this is the absolutely perfect spot for them," Dr. Gammans told the Guardian.

"It has everything they like. There is no reason why they shouldn't thrive – they're pretty tough girls.”

"This is a flagship project, a scientific first, but also a symbol that it isn't all hopeless: we don't have to stand by helplessly watching species and habitat being lost."

As World War II came to an end, the wildflower meadows in the English countryside began to suffer and decline as agriculture expanded in order to feed the growing population. The short-haired bumblebee left their home as a result and was thought to be extinct. Instead, it has now been found that the bees simply moved to Sweden where they have been thriving thanks to a smaller population and more bee-friendly farming techniques.

"The bee population in Sweden is expanding and growing whereas for everywhere else in Europe it has been contracting – it is either rare, threatened, or extinct like in the UK,” Dr. Gammans told the BBC.

"So Sweden was really the only place we could go to collect the bees."

Dr. Gammans has thus far worked very hard in order to study these Swedish bees. As detailed by the Guardian, Dr. Gammans gathered the appropriate permits to study and capture the bees after a reconnaissance trip there last year. Permits in tow, she persuaded her father to travel to Sweden ahead of her and let her know as soon as he saw the bumblebees emerge from their hibernation. Then, Dr. Gammans and her volunteers quickly made their way north to capture as many as 100 queens before driving them back to London to check for any signs of disease or infection.

In addition to releasing these bees at the RSPB reserve at Dungeness, Dr. Gammans also plans to release many more in area farms. Working together with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Hymettus, and Natural England, organizations dedicated to preserving all manner of English wildlife, Dr. Gammans has been training farmers how to protect these bees. Additionally, this team has persuaded these farmers to build up bee habitats on their farms, including patches of wild flowers on the outskirts of their farm land or in places where their machinery can´t disturb the bees.

"My farmers are brilliant," Gammans told the Guardian. "In some cases they haven't formally joined agri-stewardship schemes, but they're just doing it. It's a return to a more traditional way, the way they remember farming was when they were children, and they've really gone for it."

So, are these bees aptly named?

“They do have very short hair, bless them – their poor little abdomens look quite bald,” said Dr. Gammans.