The European tree bumblebee is the latest species from mainland Europe to spread across to England, and according to scientists it is the first new bee in the UK for 150 years.

This will come as welcome news to apiarists, as although there are 27 known species in Britain, three are now nationally extinct and many others are seriously declining.

Having braved the squalls of the English Channel, the European tree bumblebee was first spotted in the New Forest in 2001 by Dr Ben Darvill. Dr Darvill is the director of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and glimpsed the bee whilst out on a field trip.

A survey undertaken by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and A Rocha has found that these bees are now quite common in southern England, and have been recorded as far north as Northumberland. Dr Darvill observed that while many bee species in the UK are declining, the tree bumblebee seems to be steadily increasing its habitat.  ‘It seems to be the one species that is spreading.’

Mr Darvill was quick to add that the European tree bumblebee is not a threat to native species, as it relies on different plants and flowers. Bees have been in decline internationally due to use of chemicals, habitat loss and a mysterious disease known as colony collapse disorder.  They are important pollinators of flowers, fruit trees and crops.

Volunteers from A Rocha and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust are planning a major bee survey later this year. For more information see www.arocha.org.uk/treebeecampaign or www.bumblebeeconservation.org

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