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Hej hej - Say hello to our new Swedish Short-haired bumblebee queens

Nearly 50 Short-haired bumblebee queens from Sweden were released at the RSPB Dungeness reserve in Kent yesterday.

The weather conditions were ideal as the queens were released into their new home by a team of around 80 scientists and volunteers from the Short-haired bumblebee reintroduction project.

The project, a partnership between the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Natural England, RSPB and Hymettus, aims to establish new populations of this bumblebee which was last seen in Britain in 1988 and declared extinct in 2000.

It is the third year in a row queens from Sweden have been released in Kent. Although worker short-haired bumblebees were spotted at the site following last year’s release, no queens have yet been recorded.

Project officer Dr Nikki Gammans said: "We released 46 queens in four different locations where there were foxgloves, bramble, common vetch, red clover and white dead-nettle.

"The signs are good - there are a lot of wild flowers coming into bloom thanks to the work of the local farming community and gardeners. We have already spotted other very rare species in the area including the Ruderal bumblebee and the Red-shanked carder bee.

"We have been out today and have already seen a few queens around feeding so that's nice. Hopefully it's looking good for them."

Earlier this month Dr Gammans travelled with a team of scientists and volunteers to Sweden to collect the queen bumblebees. A warm spring and a bumper crop of the bees' preferred early foraging plant, white dead-nettle, meant the team were able to collect all the queens in just two-and-a-half days.

For the first time since the project began, the queens were tested for diseases in Sweden before being brought back to the Royal Holloway University of London for further screening.

The short-haired bumblebee – known to scientists as Bombus subterraneus and in Sweden as the vallhumlor bee - was last recorded at Lydd in Kent, close to Dungeness.

Members of the project have been working with local farmers , conservation groups, small holders and other land owners to create the ideal wildflower habitat for bumblebees in the area around Dungeness.

However gardeners are also being asked to play their part by planting bumblebee-friendly flowers.

“One thing I always tell people is that there is something everyone can do to help bees bounce back in the UK,” says Dr Gammans. “ Several bee species are in real trouble and have been in decline for many years, but if we all make an effort to plant the right native nectar-rich plants in our gardens then we can make a big difference. Lavender is my favourite – it looks and smells beautiful and bumblebees just love it.”

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