Bumblebees face new immigration rules

Tuesday 25th November 2014

Natural England, the Government body which enforces wildlife law, has announced that a change in legislation will only allow the release of non-UK bumblebees into glass houses and polytunnels as an emergency if native species cannot be bought.

Vanessa Amaral-Rogers, Buglife’s Campaigns Officer said “The Buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) can be found all across Europe and is a fantastic pollinator commonly used by farmers to pollinate fruits and vegetables. But there are different sub species and only one is native to the UK (audax). Previously, different sub-species from the continent (terrestris and dalmatinus) were allowed to be used as standard, but there have been escapes in the past which could have disastrous effects”

Any plant or animal in its own habitat has evolved perfectly in balance with other plant and animal species. If they are found away from their normal range, that balance is shifted and they can then have an unfair advantage over the species in the new area. Non native bumblebees can introduce pests and diseases, may be better at finding food, or could breed with our bumblebees, changing the unique genetic diversity which makes our bumblebees so well adapted to the UK.

Vanessa said “In 2013 alone, non native bumblebees were released in England from at least 17,311 hives imported into the country. With a smaller amount being brought into the UK, there will be a smaller chance of escape and this will help protect our bees. However we still need to address the risk of diseases coming in from other countries”

Currently hives of our native bumblebee can be bought from mainland Europe and released into the wild. A study in 2013 found that 73% of the native bumblebee colonies which were imported into the UK and supposed to be free from parasites and diseases, actually carried parasites which could be harmful to the health of bumblebees and other pollinators such as honeybees. Restrictions are desperately needed on the introduction of bumblebees from other countries to stop the increase of diseases in wild populations.