Posted by: ceara08 | February 26, 2008

Plight of the Bumblebee


Plight of the Bumblebees

Industrious and affable, the humble bumblebee heralds the arrival of springtime and is a harbinger of long, hot summers. But they have been spotted earlier than ever before this year, prompting fears that climate change could be the last nail in the coffin for the endangered insect.

Intensive farming and habitat destruction have already caused populations to crash. Now experts fear that global warming could finish off the bumblebee.

Usually queens awake from hibernation in April, but an uncharacteristically mild February has encouraged them to emerge and start trying to build new colonies.

Without food, and facing the prospect of harsh frosts and bitter cold, many of them will not survive.

Dave Goulson, director of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, based at Stirling University, warned that the changing weather could be the “final straw” for endangered bees and predicted disastrous consequences for rural ecosystems and economies, as bees play a crucial role in pollinating flowers, crops and fruit.

He said: “Climate change will hit the bumblebee hard, with potentially devastating consequences. You could paint quite a bleak picture if you wanted to. If we were to lose a proportion of our bumblebees, a lot of wild flowers would simply not set seed – which means they would then disappear – and then all the herbivores that feed upon those plants would disappear, and so on up the food chain.”

Britain has 10% of the world’s 250 species of bumblebee, a massive proportion. But three of these species have become extinct over the past century and a further seven are now on the endangered list, including the Great Yellow Bee, which can only be found in Scotland. It is so adapted to the cold, wet weather of Scotland that even a tiny fluctuation in temperature could be catastrophic.

Honey bees have also been decimated, by a mysterious disease called Colony Collapse Disorder, but this does not affect bumblebees. Modern farming methods, which have covered the countryside in pesticides and destroyed wild flower beds, are almost entirely to blame for their plight.

Hugh Raven, director of Soil Association Scotland, claimed organic farming methods could be their saviour. He said: “Industrial farming has had a catastrophic effect on bumblebee populations. If more agricultural land were farmed organically, this could help their recovery. English Nature and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have reported that there are more birds, butterflies, beetles, bats and wild flowers on organic farms than on conventional ones. On average wildlife is 50% more abundant, and there are 30% more species on organic farms compared to non-organic.”

The Scottish Farmers’ Union admitted mistakes had been made in the past, but insisted that farmers were now committed to conservation efforts.

Farmers can claim cash for areas left to nature under the Scottish Rural Development Fund (SRDF), but the National Trust fears it may not be enough.

A spokeswoman said: “It is important the fund gets up and running as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, delays have meant that some farmers have abandoned schemes that had been running in the countryside. The trust wonders whether there will be sufficient money available under the SRDF to encourage bumblebees and other wildlife.”

She also urged all the 300,000 members of the Scottish National Trust to join in with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s efforts to save remaining species. The trust has set up the only bumblebee conservation area on Vale Farm, Kinross, and is calling upon the public to grow wild flowers, even in window boxes, and send pictures of the bees that are attracted to them so that they can attempt to map populations.

Allison Kane, a 55-year-old nurse from Ardgour, near Fort William, has joined the programme.

She said: “I love seeing bumblebees buzzing around the garden, and I was very sad when I heard that some of the prettiest species might become extinct. I already loved gardening, but now I plant a lot more bumblebee-friendly wild flowers.”

12:30am Saturday 23rd February 2008


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