Short-haired bumblebee reintroduction

The short-haired bumblebee, Bombus subterraneus, is one of 27 bumblebee species native to the UK.

Short haired bee

Overview

It was once widespread across the south of England, occurring as far north as Humberside, but from the 1960s onwards its population distribution became isolated and patchy. 
 
Its decline was almost certainly the result of the loss of the species-rich grassland habitats on which it depends. It was last recorded near our Dungeness nature reserve in 1988 and declared extinct in 2000. 
 
A population of UK origin survives in New Zealand, where they were introduced in 1895 to pollinate red clover.

Objectives

  • To reintroduce the short-haired bumblebee in the UK
  • To establish a corridor/mosaic of suitable bumblebee habitat through Dungeness and Romney Marsh spreading into East and North Kent
  • To raise the profile of bumblebee conservation through public outreach

Progress

  • 2009: The short-haired bumblebee partnership was formed between Natural England, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Hymettus and the RSPB
  • 2009 and 2010: Attempts were made to captive rear and export queens back from New Zealand to the UK but with limited success. Results from genetic analysis showed high levels of inbreeding.
  • 2011: Natural England and the project partners agreed to change the reintroduction source location from New Zealand to a European source. Sweden was chosen as it supports the most robust population and has a broadly similar climate to the UK.
  • May 2011: An initial visit to Sweden found suitable source locations. A sample of bees were collected and were checked for diseases at Royal Holloway, University of London.
  • Spring 2012: With the co-operation of the Swedish authorities, 89 queen bees were collected from southern Sweden and put into quarantine at Royal Holloway, University of London for 2 weeks. At the end of May, 51 of the healthiest queens were released at RSPB's Dungeness reserve.
  • 2013 - 2016: Each year up to 100 queens were collected from Sweden and quarantined at Royal Holloway, University of London. A high proportion were found to be parasitized but in total 204 of the healthiest queens were released over the 5 years from 2012-16.

Planned Work

  • The project is working with farmers, conservation groups, small holders and other land owners to provide flower-rich habitat within the project area of Dungeness and Romney Marsh.

 

  • Our Dungeness reserve is contributing to this through our management of flower-rich bumblebee habitat which was restored from arable fields.

 

  • Teams of volunteers and RSPB staff carry out surveys along transects to look for threatened bees and record other species using the flower-rich habitats on RSPB’s reserve and in the surrounding farmland.

Results

The project has had enormous success with the provision of good bumblebee habitat by working with 50 farmers and 45 other landowners. In total it has advised on the management of 1483 ha of farmed land and a further 448 ha of other land within the Dungeness and Romney Marsh area. The RSPB’s Dungeness nature reserve is contributing to this through our management of flower-rich bumblebee habitat restored from arable fields.

Monitoring over the ten years of the project has shown that several species of rare bumblebees have increased as a result of the project’s interventions. On nature reserves, rare bumblebees have increased 8-fold with advice and planting, and away from reserves (where advice alone is more common), rare bees have increased threefold. A significant achievement in a short space of ten years.

The three rare bumblebee species most frequently encountered in the project area are the moss carder bee, Bombus muscorum, brown banded carder, B. humilis, and the ruderal bumblebee, B. ruderatus. All three appear to have increased on sites where the project has carried out habitat advice and planting. The Nationally Rare ruderal bumblebee has increased most significantly, and Dungeness is now one of the best places in the country for the species as a result of the project’s work. All three rare bumblebee species have been recorded returning to areas where they had not been seen for up to 25 years.

Queens of the Short-haired bumblebee were introduced from Sweden between 2012 and 2016. In spite of intensive searches, and some early success, genetic analysis has confirmed that recent sightings are not of Bombus subterraneus and it is likely that the reintroduction was not successful.

The project has done much to raise awareness of bumblebee conservation, recruit a team of dedicated volunteers, support landowners, and raise project funds. It has directly engaged with approximately 30,500 people over the past decade.

Further details of the first ten years of the project are in the Ten Year Technical Report by Dr Nikki Gammans of BBCT.  

 

Funding

  • Natural England
  • RSPB

Short-haired bumblebees return to the UK

Everyone loves bumblebees and everyone has heard they are in trouble. Nine of the species naturally occurring in the UK are now either extinct or very threatened. Follow the remarkable efforts of the team of dedicated individuals who are going to extraordinary lengths to bring back the short-haired bumblebee to the RSPB nature reserve at Dungeness.

Everyone loves bumblebees and everyone has heard they are in trouble. Nine of the species naturally occurring in the UK are now either extinct or very threatened. Follow the remarkable efforts of the team of dedicated individuals who are going to extraordinary lengths to bring back the short-haired bumblebee to the RSPB nature reserve at Dungeness.

Short haired bumblebees return to the UK video screenshot

Contacts

Coast on a stormy day

Dr Jane Sears

Senior Ecologist, Ecology

jane.sears@rspb.org.uk
Tagged with: Country: England Country: New Zealand Country: Sweden Habitat: Farmland Habitat: Grassland Project status: Ongoing Project types: Species protection