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  1. ITV Report

New home for NZ bees?

Conservationists attempting to reintroduce an extinct bumblebee are heading to Sweden to collect queens after a bid to bring the species back from New Zealand failed.

The short-haired bumblebee was last recorded in the UK in 1988 near Dungeness, Kent, having suffered declines over the previous 60 years as its habitat was lost, and was officially declared extinct in 2000.

Although it has 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.

Now the team behind the project to reintroduce the short-haired bumblebee (Bombus subterraneus) to the UK are heading to southern Sweden, which is a stronghold for the species, to collect up to 100 queens.

The conservationists said there were healthy populations of the bees in the province of Skane in Sweden, thanks to the efforts of farmers there.

The team are heading to the Scandinavian country this weekend to collect dozens of short-haired bumblebee queens for release in new habitats in England, where it is hoped they will re-colonise meadows and farmland in the South East.

The bees will be brought back to England by ferry in refrigeration to induce temporary hibernation, before being placed in quarantine at Royal Holloway in London to make sure they have no pests or diseases that could hit native wildlife.

In the UK, bumblebee-friendly habitat has been created in Kent. The conservationists have been working with farmers across Romney Marsh and Dungeness over the past three years to create flowering field margins suitable for bees.

Dr Nikki Gammans, project officer for the scheme, said: "We have been carefully planning this expedition for months with our Swedish colleagues - it's very exciting now to be heading off to collect the queens which we hope will be the first of a new UK colony.

"This project is about restoring a lost piece of the jigsaw for our countryside wildlife and it is going to be a very special moment when we finally introduce them to their new homes."

The project is a collaboration between government conservation agency Natural England, the RSPB, Hymettus and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

Dr Pete Brotherton, head of biodiversity at Natural England, said: "Bees play a vital role in the countryside and the loss of the short-haired bumblebee serves as a stark reminder that many of our bees are in real trouble.

"But this species recovery project shows that when conservationists and farmers work together we can really turn things around.

"The bumblebees now have ideal habitat waiting for them in Kent, giving them an excellent chance of re-establishing themselves."