Homecoming of the short-haired bumblebee after 24 years

Following three years of intensive preparations, the short-haired bumblebee (Bombus subterraneus) finally came home today to South East England. Around 50 queens from Sweden were released today at the RSPB’s Dungeness reserve in Kent.

The species was last seen in Britain in 1988 and declared extinct in 2000. A reintroduction project started in 2009 (see our previous blog post) by Natural England, the RSPB, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Hymettus. The organisations worked closely together with local farmers and landowners to create and restore habitats for the bees. This included creation of flower rich field margins, introducing rotational grazing and restoring corridors between habitats. These actions already benefitted other native bumblebee species, butterflies and birds.

Dr Nikki Gammans, the leader of the project, and her team caught and brought back the bumblebees from Sweden in April. The animals travelled in hibernation to reduce travel induced stress and spent two weeks in quarantine at Royal Holloway University. The quarantine was necessary to prevent the introduction of new parasites and diseases to the UK.

Dr Gammans said: “I am delighted to have the possibility to reintroduce this species. It is rare in nature conservation that you get a second chance to bring back a species from extinction.”
RSPB Conservation director Martin Harper added: “Dungeness was the last place the short-haired bumblebee was recorded before it disappeared 24 years ago so it is very exciting to see it finally coming home. But this is just the start – we will all be working hard to make sure this, and other threatened bumblebee species, expand their ranges and recolonise south eastern England.”

The bumblebees will be closely monitored in the coming months to assess the success of the reintroduction. Hopefully the queens will create new colonies and expand their distribution to other regions in Britain in the future.

For more information see Natural England’s press release.

Dr Gammans took part in a panel discussion on ‘Gardening for Wildlife’, organised by the BES at the 2009 British Science Festival. Read more here.