June 1, 2009

Bumblebees To Be Reintroduced To The UK

Plans have been announced that the short-haired bumblebee, which is considered extinct in the UK, will be reintroduced from New Zealand.

The short-haired bumblebee was brought from the UK to New Zealand in the late 19th Century on the first refrigerated lamb boats to pollinate clover crops.

Now Natural England and several other conservation groups have launched a scheme to bring the species home.

Natural England's acting chairman, Poul Christensen, said, "Bumblebees are suffering unprecedented international declines and drastic action is required to aid their recovery."

"Bumblebees play a key role in maintaining food supplies - we rely on their ability to pollinate crops and we have to do all we can to provide suitable habitat and to sustain the diversity of bee species.

"This international rescue mission has two aims - to restore habitat in England, thereby giving existing bees a boost; and to bring the short-haired bumblebee home where it can be protected."

There will be as many as 100 bees initially collected in New Zealand and a captive breeding plan established, with the aim of eventually releasing them at Dungeness, Kent, where they were last seen.

According to Natural England, the bees will be flown back on planes while kept in cool boxes to not be disturbed because they will be in hibernation during transit.

Nikki Gammans, the project officer of the Stirling-based Bumblebee Conservation Trust, said the bee was a "keystone species" which was key to pollinating around 80% of important crops.

"By creating the right habitat for these bumblebees, we are recreating wildflower habitat that has been lost, which will be good for butterflies, water voles and nesting birds."

Natural England, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, the RSPB and Hymettus are running the partnership project.


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