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Published April 26, 2012 05:35 AM

Bee, extinct in the UK to be re-introduced

The return of a bumblebee species extinct in the UK for nearly a quarter of a century has moved a big step forward.

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A team of conservationists is setting off to Sweden this weekend on a mission to collect up to 100 short-haired bumblebee queens before releasing them at the RSPB’s Dungeness reserve in Kent later this Spring.

The project to return the bumblebee Bombus subterraneus to the UK is a partnership between Natural England, the RSPB, Hymettus and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and forms part of the wider Natural England-funded Species Recovery Programme.

The short-haired bumblebee was last recorded in the UK in 1988 near Dungeness. It suffered declines throughout the last 60 years as a result of habitat loss. However the species has fared much better in the south of Sweden where, thanks to efforts of farmers, healthy populations of the bees can be found in areas of the province of Skane.

Conservationists are now ready to begin the delicate work of transferring a small number of the queens to new habitats in England, in the hope they will re-colonise meadows and farmland in the south east.

Over the next two weeks, healthy queen bees will be collected from Skane province in southern Sweden using bee nets, and then carefully transferred into vials. These will be placed in refrigeration which will make the bees drowsy and induce a temporary hibernation.

The bees will return with the project team to England by ferry before being placed in quarantine at Royal Holloway, University of London to ensure they are free from diseases or parasites which could affect our native wildlife.

Photo of Short Haired Bumblebee credit: Encylopedia of Life.

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