Page last updated at 00:39 GMT, Friday, 8 January 2010

Wild bees 'may freeze to death'

Honey bees
The BCT said domesticated bees should survive in hives

Conservationists have warned of a "pollination crisis" this summer as hibernating wild bees perish in freezing conditions.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BCT) said domesticated honeybees should survive the winter in hives looked after by beekeepers.

However, wild bumblebee queens hibernating underground could freeze to death.

Stirling-based BCT said wild bees were key plant pollinators.

Director Dr Ben Darvill said: "A fertilised queen bumblebee is all that survives from one year to the next, so hibernation survival is absolutely crucial.

"A mass die-off in winter would have massive consequences for bee numbers in the following summer."

He added: "We suspect that they tunnel deeply enough to avoid being frozen, but in a winter like this the ground may freeze more deeply than usual."

Declining numbers

The great yellow bumblebee - one of Britain's rarest bees - is among the species being monitored by BCT.

Last summer it was found at its most southerly site in 30 years.

Once widespread, its numbers declined in the face of intensive farming and it has clung to survival on Orkney and the Western Isles.

The far north Highlands are home to the last mainland population.

However, BCT's Bob Dawson discovered the species near Lybster, on the east Caithness coast.

The Stirling University-based Scottish conservation officer said its spread suggested the bumblebee had enjoyed a good summer following a run of poor ones.

Conservation efforts by farmers and landowners were also thought to have helped boost numbers.

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