I have been very lucky over the last 4 years to be invite to go along to the release of queen bees for the Short-haired Bumblebee Reintroduction Project. The Short-haired Bumblebee Reintroduction Project was set up to recreate flower-rich grassland in South-East England and reintroduce the extinct bumblebee Bombus subterraneus back to the UK. It is led by a partnership of Natural England, the RSPB, Hymettus and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, in partnership with the Swedish government. The Project also aims to highlight and recreate the extensive loss of wildflower meadows, raise awareness of bee decline by reaching out to the general public, education institutes, natural history groups and societies.
Each year, queens are collected from Sweden and, after a period of quarantine in the UK, are reintroduced into the UK during a special release day at the RSPB reserve in Dungeness during late spring. This year, 32 queens were happily released and I was very excited to release 2 – one flew off straightaway and the other landed on some Birds Foot Trefoil and hung around on there for at least 15 minutes foraging in the sunshine.
The warm, sunny day started off with us being divided into groups to go and release bees in different parts of the nature reserve. Our team went off to an area with a lot of Birdsfoot Trefoil, Vetch and Yellow Flag Irises alongside some water – oh, and some very curious cows! Other teams went off to where, for example, there was a lot of White Deadnettle.
Once there, we collected our Shore-haired bumblebee from project leader, Nikki Gammans. The bees had been kept cool over night to keep them “sedated” so they would not injure themselves in the special bee tubes.
Once given our bee tube we went off to find a suitable patch of Birdsfoot Trefoil or Vetch to release the bee onto. To aid with analysing the day, we all had a form to fill in with, eg, the bee number, what time she was released, how long she spent on each flower, flight pattern etc.
I released my first bee onto Vetch but she flew off excitedly into the distance! My second bee was released on Birdsfoot Trefoil and I got many great photos of her foraging.
We also had a professional photographer with us – Nick Upton – who flitted about, clicking away, getting some great images. Here he is below with Nikki, photographing Nikki’s bee who had flown onto Yellow Flag Iris.
The following photos are Nick’s, of the bee I released – the fuzzy person in the background is me!
The bees were often very obliging when it came to being photographed. This one flew onto Yellow Flag Iris and got more and more dusted with pollen.
All in all, a fantastic day with the bees! Please visit the Shorthaired Bumblebee Reintroduction page and support their marvellous work. BBC Wildlife magazine will also be publishing a feature about the release using Nick Upton’s shots later this summer 2016 and have interviewed Nikki for it. More of Nick’s work can be viewed at www.naturepl.com.
Let us know your thoughts on the bees, we’d love to hear.
Written by Teresa Sinclair