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  Short-haired bumblebee queens hoped to boost UK population
Efforts to reintroduce an extinct species of bumblebee to the UK are set to get a boost with new queens released into the wild, conservationists said.

Experts have collected short-haired bumblebees from Sweden, where they are found in good numbers, and are reintroducing them to the RSPB's reserve at Dungeness, Kent.

The first generation of queens collected and released last year struggled in the cold wet conditions last summer, and it is hoped the new queen bees will bolster the colony.

Conservationists are also monitoring the area for signs of emerging queens from last year, now the bee's favourite early source of nectar, the white dead nettle, is flowering.

The conservation project to bring back the bee has involved work with farmers to create flower-rich meadows and field margins in Dungeness and Romney Marsh, which have boosted populations of other threatened bumblebees.

Of 25 native bumblebee species, seven are in decline and two have become extinct, including the short-haired bumblebee, but the reintroduction project offers hope for bumblebees across the UK, wildlife groups said.

The species was last recorded in the UK in the Dungeness area in 1988, having suffered declines over the previous 60 years as its habitat was lost, and was officially declared extinct in 2000.

Although it vanished from this country, small populations have clung on in the South Island of New Zealand after being transported there on the first refrigerated lamb boats in the late 19th century to pollinate crops of red clover.

But efforts to transport queens back from the other side of the world failed in 2009 when the bees died before they made it out of quarantine.

So last year, conservationists turned to a healthy population of the bee living in the southern Swedish province of Skåne, and reintroduced a number of queens at the reserve at Dungeness.

Project manager Dr Nikki Gammans said: "Bumblebees are an intrinsic part of the British countryside, but some species are disappearing before our eyes. That's why the project to bring back the short-haired bumblebee is so important.

"Bringing this extinct species back to the UK shows what can be done for wildlife by working together."

She added: "The queens we released last year have had a very tough time with the weather last summer, so it was vital that we return to Sweden and bring back more queens to bolster the colony at Dungeness."

The project is backed by government conservation agency Natural England and wildlife groups the RSPB, Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Hymettus.

The creation of corridors of flower-rich habitat linking farmland and nature reserves across the Romney Marsh area as part of the project has benefited other species of bumblebee.

Five threatened species including England's rarest bumblebee, the shrill carder bee, have all increased their range in the area after decades of decline, the conservationists said.
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