NZ to fly rare bumblebees back to UK

Bumblebees originally shipped to New Zealand to help farmers produce better clover crops are soon to be re-exported to their native Britain, where the species has died out.

The short-haired bumblebee was one of four species exported from Britain to New Zealand between 1885 and 1906 to pollinate clover crops.

It was last seen in the UK in 1988, but populations have survived in New Zealand, though it is the rarest bumblebee in this country and found only at a few inland sites in the South Island.

In a recent survey of 1984 bumblebees in Canterbury and Otago, only 38 were from the short-haired species.

As many as 100 of the bees will initially be collected in New Zealand and a captive breeding plan has been created in England, with the aim of eventually releasing them at Dungeness, Kent, where they were last seen.

The bees, known scientifically as Bombus subterraneus, will be flown to the UK in cool boxes so they will hibernate during the journey, the BBC reported.

The re-population scheme's project officer, Nikki Gammans, said the bumblebee was a "keystone species" which was key to pollinating around 80 per cent of important crops in Britain.

"By creating the right habitat for these bumblebees, we are recreating wildflower habitat that has been lost, which will be good for butterflies, water voles and nesting birds."

Conservation group Natural England's acting chairman, Poul Christensen, said: "Bumblebees are suffering unprecedented international declines and drastic action is required to aid their recovery.

"Bumblebees play a key role in maintaining food supplies -- we rely on their ability to pollinate crops and we have to do all we can to provide suitable habitat and to sustain the diversity of bee species.

"This international rescue mission has two aims -- to restore habitat in England, thereby giving existing bees a boost; and to bring the short-haired bumblebee home where it can be protected."

Researchers at Canterbury University and Lincoln University have been developing a DNA test for the species as part of a project to better understand why its is not thriving.

New Zealand has 28 native and 13 introduced species of bee.

- NZPA

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