Dublin: 6 °C Sunday 4 December, 2022

UK has a 'plan bee' to re-introduce extinct species

Bees from Sweden to be released into British countryside as Irish centre warns that some Irish bee species under threat…

Bombus subterraneus to make a return to UK countryside
Bombus subterraneus to make a return to UK countryside
Image: (Jens Meyer/AP Images)

A SPECIES OF BUMBLEBEE that was once prevalent in the UK, but that vanished in 1988, is being re-introduced to the British countryside.

The short-haired bumblebee has not been seen on a British flower for over a quarter of a century, but due to a healthy stock of the bee being found in Sweden, conservationists were able to collect some to seed a new UK colony.

The BBC reports that under the Short-haired Bumblebee Project, 50 queen bumblebees will be released in Kent.

One of the project’s coordinators Nikki Gammans said that usually when a species becomes extinct it means it is lost forever “but it is magnificent that we can bring back this bee species and give it a second chance here in the UK”.

According to the National Biodiversity Data Centre Ireland’s bee fauna is less than half the size of that of Britain, which has about 260 species. This is due to Ireland’s oceanic climate. The fall-off of the bee species on the east coast of Ireland is due to extensive agricultural intensification and urbanisation.

However the reason for the short-haired bumblebee disappearing from the UK was due to a dramatic decline of wildflower meadows after World War II as agriculture intensified to feed the growing population.

Speaking to The Journal an ecologist at the National Biodiversity Data Centre, Dr Úna Fitzpatrick said that “the short-haired bee has never occurred in Ireland. We are also experiencing declines but we’ve not lost any bumblebee species yet”.

Dr Fitzpatrick, who looks after the Irish pollinator initiative, said that more than half of Ireland’s 101 bee species have undergone substantial declines in their numbers since 1980.

Of the 20 bumblebee species that occur in Ireland, four are endangered and two are vulnerable. Both the great yellow bumblebee and the shrill carder bee have declined significantly and both face a real threat of extinction from Ireland.

She added bees were important to us getting a well balanced diet saying that the wild bees are crucial pollinators for our crops and wild plants. Dr Fitzpatrick said that very recent evidence from the US and the UK has suggested that common bumblebee species are showing significant declines in abundance.

In 2011 the National Biodiversity Data Centre established the Irish bumblebee monitoring scheme so that in the future we will be able to see exactly what is happening with Irish bumblebees and in consequence pollination.  There are just over 100 volunteers across the country who carry out a fixed route walk once a month and record the bumblebees they see. We use that information in the data centre to monitor changes and to detect the early warning signs of a general threat to our bumblebees.

If you are interested in identifying Irish bumblebees you can download the free App from the National Biodiversity Data Centre here.

Read next: