Bumblebees Extinct in the UK to be Reintroduced From Surviving Stock in New Zealand

short-haired bumblebee photo

photo: Bumblebee Conservation Trust

After being last seen in the south of England in 1998, and declared extinct in 2000, the short-haired bumblebee (Bombus subterraneus) is going to be reintroduced, from stocks reimported from New Zealand. The project hopes to see the first bees released into the wild in 2010 or 2011, conservation group Natural England says:The short-haired bumblebee was originally exported to New Zealand in the late 1800s to pollinate red clover (also imported), which was used as cattle feed. Now the plan is to recreate enough wildflower habitat to support the bees in their native land—England has seen a loss of 98% of its wildflower meadows in the past 70 years.

Initially about 100 bees will be collected in New Zealand and then flown back in cool boxes. A captive breeding program will be developed to support the population before reintroduction.

Bumblebees Important For Farming, Wild Flowers
So, big deal right? Yeah, it is a big deal. As Natural England points out, bumblebees pollinate many important agricultural crops and are critical part of the farming economy. And they're in some serious decline. Malcolm Ausden of the Royal Society for Protection of Birds:

The loss of this bumblebee is a prime example of the pressures faced by the UK’s natural environment. The RSPB is committed to protecting our rich array of wildlife. Our reserve at Dungeness was the last place where this bee was found in the UK, so it’s fitting it should be the place where we try to reintroduce it.

The site is a haven for bumblebees and a huge amount of work has been done to improve the site for them and encourage the flowering plants they love. It is not often you get a chance to bring back a species which has been lost. With the short-haired bumblebee, the New Zealand population gives us an opportunity to do just that.

Loss of Habitat Leads to Loss of Bees
You've probably heard about colony collapse disorder, which affects honey bees and has raised similar concerns about the loss of these insects on agriculture, but that's a different thing than with the decline in bumblebees—the main threats to which are a decline in wildflowers due to habitat loss, and the impact of industrial agriculture on this.

More: Natural England
Save the Bees! Grow Garden Plants Honey Bees Love
"Millions Stolen": Bee Theft Multiplies as Prices Soar
Focus on Focus Earth: A Bee Mystery

Related Content on Treehugger.com