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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 September 2007, 23:06 GMT 00:06 UK
Mining bee stronghold uncovered
Northern colletes. Picture courtesy of RSPB Scotland
The bee burrows into soft soil and favours sandy dunes
One of the UK's rarest bees has established a stronghold in sandy dunes on the Western Isles.

RSPB Scotland said its staff and enthusiasts had discovered multiple nest sites of northern colletes, or mining bees, on the Uists.

Berneray, off the tip of North Uist, has emerged as the most northerly site in the UK for the threatened species, said the wildlife organisation.

More than 10 colonies have been found on the island.

Jamie Boyle, RSPB Scotland's Uist warden, said: "This is really great news and extremely encouraging for this struggling and very rare species."

Northern colletes is a solitary variety and burrows underground into soft soil to build its nest where it stores nectar and pollen for its larvae.

They differ from bumblebees and honey bees in having no workers.

Although they do not co-operate with each other, they nest in what are termed "aggregations" - the insect equivalent of rookeries.

Because of this it prefers gently sloping sandy banks and dunes, close to the herb-rich machair meadows familiar on the islands.

Mr Boyle said: "As well as in the Uists, there are only a few other isolated UK locations that the northern colletes bee occurs, such as on the Ayrshire coast - where it was first discovered in the UK more than a century ago."

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