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Academic safeguards future of bees

Posted on 28/05/2012

Dr Mark Brown examines the bees in quarantine

Dr Mark Brown from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London has been instrumental in the run-up to today’s re-launch of the Bombus subterraneus – otherwise known as the short-haired bumblebee - nearly a quarter of a century after the bee was last seen in the UK.

The queen bees were released at the RSPB’s Dungeness reserve in Kent this morning (May 28) and will be closely monitored to see how they take to their new surroundings and over the summer months surveys will be carried out to determine bee numbers and to see if they are exploring beyond the release site.

With close cooperation from bee experts and the Skåne County Administrative Board in Sweden, queen bees were collected from meadows in Sweden earlier this month, and then quarantined at a Royal Holloway laboratory two weeks prior to today’s release.

The bees came over from Sweden in a sealed container and before being placed into quarantine underwent a clinical examination by Dr Brown. The academic looked for signs of external damage or unusual structures or bulges in the bees and a sample of the bees feces was also analysed under the microscope to check for micro parasites.

Dr Brown said: “The screening and quarantine process was essential, both to protect the bees coming in from being exposed to anything in our environment but also to ensure only healthy bees and no foreign parasites would be re-introduced to the UK which could affect our native wildlife and existing bee population.”

He added: “It is so fantastic to be involved in such a worthwhile project. It is very rewarding to be able to use my understanding of host parasite systems to contribute to such a positive conservation project.”

The short-haired bumblebee is one of 27 bumblebee species native to the UK. It was formerly widespread in south-eastern England and could be found as far as Yorkshire and Cornwall. Numbers fell during the twentieth century and by the 1980s it was restricted to Dungeness and the Romney Marshes in Kent. It was last seen in Britain in 1988.

The project, backed by Royal Holloway, Natural England, the RSPB, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Hymettus, hinges on the creation of healthy bumblebee habitat by local farmers. Using Environmental Stewardship funding, farmers in Dungeness have been preparing for the bees’ homecoming by growing flower-rich borders and meadows essential for a range of nectar feeding insects from bumblebees to butterflies.




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