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Local councillor takes rare bumblebee under his wing

Thurso councillor Roger Saxon has become a “champion” for the Great yellow bumblebee as part of an initiative by Highland Council to help endangered species.

Councillors were asked to choose from more than 80 different species ranging from a lowly but important soil fungus which helps Bluebells absorb phosphate to the emblematic Golden eagle.

The Great yellow bumblebee is one of the two most endangered bumblebee species in the UK.

Once found throughout most of the UK, it is now only found in parts of Caithness and Sutherland, and the islands of Orkney, Coll, Tiree and the Outer Hebrides, where it thrives on coastal sites which retain a clover-rich machair habitat.

As species champion for the Great yellow bumblebee, Councillor Saxon will be responsible for highlighting its importance and the issues affecting it. Part of the role will also involve learning more about the species and trying to see it in the wild.

Councillor Saxon said: “I am delighted to represent the Great yellow bumblebee which has such an important home in Caithness. I hope many more Councillors will support this worthwhile initiative.”

The Highland Council campaign replicates an initiative set up by the Scottish Environment LINK’s wildlife forum in January 2013.
The LINK is a forum of around 35 of Scotland’s voluntary environment organisations, including the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT).

“In the grand tradition of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery the Highland Council Species Champions initiative was inspired by the one that Scottish Environment Link developed for MSPs,” says Jonathan Willet, Highland biodiversity officer. “It is hoped that the species champions will become advocates for their species highlighting the issues affecting them in appropriate debates and raising the profile of them.”
Katy Malone, BBCT conservation officer in Scotland, said: “We are delighted to welcome Roger as the champion for this iconic bee. There is lots of great work already happening in Caithness to help this rare bee and other pollinating insects, and much more being planned, and we look forward to working with him.”

As well as 15 councillors who have signed up to the council initiative, nearly 70 MSPs have signed up to LINK’s Species Champion project including Highlands and Islands MSP Dave Stewart who has also chosen to champion the Great yellow bumblebee.

“I first took up the cause of the Great yellow at the beginning of 2013 when I signed up to the Scottish Environment LINK “Wildlife Proclamation” and volunteered to become a wildlife champion, promising to make Scotland and the Highlands and Islands a better place for wildlife,” he said.

“Each MSP who signed the proclamation also took on a role as a species champion and I was fortunate to receive the Great yellow bumblebee, which is pertinent to the region I represent and is now the only place on the mainland where Great yellows can be found. The Great yellow can also still be found on the Western Isles as well as Orkney and Shetland. Sadly however, the distribution of the Great yellow has now declined by around 80% in the last century making it one of the Britain’s rarest bumblebees.”

Katy Malone added: “The Great yellow has declined more than most other bumblebees because it emerges relatively late, and needs to feed on nectar-rich flowers right into September to successfully raise its young. Caithness is now critical to the survival of this species – it’s clinging on, but needs our help.”

LINK's Species Champion initiative has been short-listed for the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) Scottish Charity Awards in the Cracking Campaign category. You can vote online until 5pm on May 9 at: http://www.scvo.org.uk/charity-awards/species-champions-scottish-environment-link/

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