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Monday, December 14, 1998 Published at 12:52 GMT


Bee gone!

The short-haired bumble bee was last seen in Britain in the early 1980s

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

The short-haired bumble bee is thought to be the latest in a growing list of wildlife now extinct in the UK.

The country has lost 154 species this century - with three dying out every two years, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The organisation has published a doomsday list of likely extinction dates for surviving species in the next two decades.

It includes:

  • 2003 - water voles, the high brown fritillary butterfly
  • 2007 - pipistrelle bats
  • 2009 - skylarks.

    The WWF fears extinction rates will increase because of development pressures, climate change and the effects of the EU's common agricultural policy. It wants stronger laws to half the decline.

    Government action

    Michael Meacher, UK Government Environment Minister told the BBC "We are taking action: much stronger safeguards for Sites of Special Scientific Interest and putting in place 157 biodiversity species action plans."

    BBC correspondent Roger Harrabin hears the WWF's concerns
    He added that he hoped there would be new legislation announced next year. "I will be vigourously lobbying within government for a new countryside protection bill."

    Last sighting

    The short-haired bumble bee was last seen near Dungeness on the Kent coast in the early 1980s.

    Intensive survey work around the UK over the last two years has found no trace of the bee, whose habit of nesting on the ground made it vulnerable to modern farming methods.

    But the bee was exported to New Zealand in the 19th century and still thrives there. It could be re-introduced in the UK, if there was a suitable habitat.

    Other species not on the WWF's list also face a bleak future.

    Of 15 UK bat species, two are at severe risk and others are becoming increasingly rare. The greater horseshoe bat has declined by 99% this century.

    Three of the UK's 12 native reptiles and amphibians are under threat of extinction.

    Four dragonfly species are thought to have died out, with six others endangered.

    Threat to vegetation

    And WWF says that 20 plant species have been lost in the last century, with 300 more facing extinction.

    Its report paints a sombre picture of decline, both of species and of the habitats which support them.

    Between 1947 and 1985, for example, 175,000 km of hedgerows in England and Wales - enough to stretch nearly four times round the world - were removed.

    Half of Britain's natural woodlands have been destroyed, and 95% of its peatland and grazing marshland.

    In the last 50 years half of all farm ponds have been lost, and 97% of ancient meadows. WWF also lists some of the species which have already died out during this century.

    They include the white-tailed eagle, the large tortoiseshell and large blue butterflies, a moth called Blair's wainscot, and the mouse-eared bat.

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