Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bumblebee Declines in the United Kingdom

Bumblebees the world over are threatened. Nowhere perhaps, is this better documented than in the United Kingdom. The level of scientific, public and amateur interest in bumblebees there is among the highest in the world. So the British have good records on their bumblebee populations, some of them dating back over a hundred years, The UK even has a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving native populations, The Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

And here's the sad truth that has been discovered. Although the UK currently has a relatively diverse bumblebee fauna, with 24 species, only six of these remain relatively common while over the last 70 years the rest have declined to varying degrees. During that period, two species have become extinct in the region. The survival of a further six species is so endangered they have been designated priority species under the terms of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Local bumblebee supporters are highly active in trying to preserve species that, like the Shrill Carder and Great Yellow Bumblebees, have become rare and exist only in a few isolated populations. And they have discovered, with great delight, that one of the species now extinct in the UK, the Short Haired Bumblebee, still survives in New Zealand, because it was introduced there in the late 19th century in order to pollinate clover crops. Now a conservation group called Natural England is undertaking to transplant individuals of the lost species back into the UK in order to re-establish the former populations.

Other events are on the move as well. A European species called the Tree Bumblebee that was never present in Britain before has now invaded the country from the south coast and is heading northward.

Things are changing fast for crop pollinating bumblebees in the UK and only a vigilant monitoring program will provide enough information to know which bees to try and help, and when.

[The photo is of the Tree Bumblebee, by Rasbak, Creative Commons and GNU licences]

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