Page last updated at 23:26 GMT, Sunday, 31 May 2009 00:26 UK

Rare bumblebee coming back to UK

Bumblebee (BBC)
Bumblebee numbers have been dropping around the world

A bumblebee which is extinct in the UK is to be reintroduced from New Zealand under plans being announced.

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

It was last seen in the UK in 1988, but populations on the other side of the world have survived.

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

International rescue

Poul Christensen, Natural England's acting chairman, 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.

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"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."

As many as 100 of the bees will initially be 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.

They will be flown back on planes in cool boxes, and will not be disturbed, according to Natural England, as they will be in hibernation during transit.

The scheme's project officer Nikki Gammans, 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."

The partnership project is being run by Natural England, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust the RSPB and Hymettus.



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