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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 July 2006, 04:27 GMT 05:27 UK
Bumblebees sniffed out by spaniel
Quinn, the sniffer dog
Quinn, a former stray, spent the past year training in Leicestershire
A sniffer dog is to spend the next five weeks roaming the Hebrides in Scotland to help save threatened species of bumblebees.

Quinn, a specially trained Springer Spaniel, has been recruited by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

The group's unique project aims to establish the number of rare bumblebees in the UK and how best to protect them.

Quinn has been trained to point his nose at a hive rather than get too close and risk a sting.

At one time there were 25 British species of bumblebee but three are now extinct, and nine more need urgent protection.

However, to conserve them, experts need to know how many colonies there are and where they are.

'Excitable' helper

Quinn, a former stray, has spent the past year training in Leicestershire alongside dogs being taught to locate illegal drugs and explosives.

It is hoped the information he and owner Joe Waters will help to save Britain's rarest bumblebee, the Great Yellow, and the other threatened species.

We have absolutely no idea of how many bumblebee colonies there are
Ben Darvill
Bumblebee Conservation Trust

Mr Waters is a PHD student at Southampton University who is investigating the ecology of bumblebees and is helping the trust with its project.

He said Quinn's training had involved getting him familiar with the smell of bumblebee nests.

And every time the hound finds the practice nest, he is rewarded with a tennis ball and a "good play".

Mr Waters said: "The main aim here is to discover bumblebee nest density for the whole range of species that exist on the island and compare this with the diversity of habitats at present.

"Quinn enjoys his work, he has a little harness, and he always gets excited when I take it out."

'Crucial' information

Ben Darvill, co-founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, said the most important part of the project was to estimate the population of the species.

"To date we have absolutely no idea of how many bumblebee colonies there are.

"We do not even know if, in some of the remaining strongholds like the Outer Hebrides, there are two colonies or a thousand colonies, and it is crucial that we can ascertain this."

The Great Yellow Bumblebee is thought to be in high numbers in the Outer Hebrides as they are known to favour its calcium-rich, "machair" grassland.

Dr Dave Beaumont, senior ecologist with RSPB Scotland, said: "Over this summer we will be trying to establish the number and distribution of Great Yellow Bumblebee nests on the island of Tiree.

"Once we have a more complete picture of the ecology of this bee we will use the information to target management initiative that we will be developing over the coming years."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See Quinn the sniffer dog in action



SEE ALSO
Bee decline 'may hit food crops'
06 Jun 06 |  Northern Ireland
Study to save dying bumble bees
19 Sep 04 |  Hampshire

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