Thousands of rare insects released to boost critically endangered population

Thursday 21st October 2021

The biggest ever releases to boost Britain’s critically endangered wild population of pine hoverflies are being carried out this week by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the RSPB-led Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms (RIC) project.

Following a record-breaking breeding season for the extremely rare native species at Highland Wildlife Park near Aviemore, the wildlife conservation charity is releasing over 3,000 pine hoverfly larvae in three carefully chosen forest habitats in the Cairngorms National Park.

It is hoped the releases mark a turning point for this important pollinator which has not been seen in its adult form in the wild in Britain for over eight years.

Dr Helen Taylor, RZSS conservation programme manager, said, “This is a very exciting day for pine hoverfly conservation in Britain. Following habitat loss over the past century, our pine hoverflies are on the brink of extinction, with the majority of the known native population being cared for by our charity’s dedicated team at Highland Wildlife Park.

“Like many other insects, pine hoverflies play an important role in maintaining healthy ecosystems, but are sadly often overlooked until it is too late.

“It is absolutely incredible to be in a position to release over 3,000 pine hoverfly larvae into the wild this year after just 25 larvae were brought into our conservation breeding programme in 2019.

“Thanks to a huge amount of collaboration and support from our partners, funders and other conservation champions, including visitors to our parks, the future is starting to look brighter for one of Britain’s most endangered species.”

Genevieve Tompkins, RIC project officer, said, “The key thing about the sites where we’re releasing the larvae is that they are owned by organisations that are committed to managing that particular land for biodiversity benefits, meaning that the pine hoverflies we release will have the best chance possible.

“There has been some amazing work from the landowners, volunteers, and all our partner organisations in terms of identifying the best release sites to creating artificial pine rot holes at those sites to house the larvae.

“With another release planned for March, this really is a significant effort to establish vital new populations of this species, providing a lifeline before it’s too late. We’ll have to wait until we conduct surveys next September to see whether our work has led to successful breeding in the wild, but everything is looking a lot more hopeful that it did 12 months ago.”

The first of the three pine hoverfly releases took place yesterday, Wednesday 21 October, at Forestry and Land Scotland’s Ryvoan, Glenmore site and will be followed by more at two sites in RSPB’s Abernethy Forest in the coming days.

Funding for the RZSS breeding programme from Cairngorms National Park Authority, Forestry and Land Scotland, Marvelous Europe Inc., NatureScot, The National Geographic Society, alongside support from the Scottish Government’s zoos and aquariums fund and players of People’s Postcode Lottery, was critical in ensuring this vital project could continue in light of the many challenges faced through 2020 and 2021.

The Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms project is a partnership between the RSPB, Cairngorms National Park Authority, Buglife Scotland, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, and NatureScot.