International Year of Biodiversity
"Endangered insects to be reintroduced on RSPB reserves"
January 21st, 2010
This year sees the start of a series of projects at RSPB reserves to release four insect species which are either extinct or on the brink of extinction in the UK.
In the spirit of the International Year of Biodiversity, the Society and its partners are reintroducing endangered species of hoverflies, moths, bees and crickets to help return them to the UK countryside.
In the past the RSPB has reintroduced threatened birds like white tailed eagles, red kites and corncrakes to help bolster populations in danger of disappearing. But the charity is now hoping to have the same success with invertebrate reintroduction projects.
“The B in our name stands for birds - and we stand up for birds wherever we can - but our work covers all kinds of wildlife,” said Dr Mark Avery, RSPB director of conservation.
“No conservation organisation worth its salt concentrates on just one species and ignores all others. 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity and that chimes perfectly with our efforts to protect whole ecosystems on our reserves from the smallest bug to the tallest tree.
“We have recorded more than 13,000 different species on our 200 reserves, and only three per cent of those are birds. They are great places to engage with nature and I’m very excited that they will soon become home to some of the country’s most endangered insects.”
The first project will be the reintroduction of field crickets to areas of re-created heathland at the RSPB reserves at Farnham Heath, Surrey and Pulborough Brooks, West Sussex in April.
Field cricket populations have declined severely due to loss of habitats such as lowland heathland and grassland and were at their lowest point in the late 1980s after they were reduced to a single surviving colony of just 100 individuals in Sussex.
The RSPB is working with Natural England and partners to help increase the cricket’s range and make it more robust to changes in the future, such as climate change.
In the summer the RSPB, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Natural England and Hymettus will be reintroducing the short haired bumblebee to its reserve in Dungeness, Kent – near to the site of the UK’s last recorded population in 1988.
Coming home from New Zealand
The short haired bumblebee was once widespread in the south of England but has disappeared as a result of changes in farming methods. However populations taken to New Zealand by British settlers a century ago have survived – and now conservationists will be bringing some back to help repopulate their homeland.
In Scotland the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage will be laying the groundwork for a planned reintroduction of the threatened pine hoverfly to the RSPB’s Abernethy reserve in 2011. One of Britain’s most endangered insects, the pine hoverfly only breeds in the hollows of tree stumps created by fungi. Changes in forestry practices have led to a crash in the populations of the insect.
Also in Scotland this year, the RSPB and Butterfly Conservation will establish a captive breeding programme in an attempt to create a sustainable population of dark bordered beauty moths.
If this is successful the moths will be released at a Scottish RSPB reserve next year. The dark bordered beauty moth, which lives in aspen woodland and heathland, currently only exists in two colonies in Scotland and one in northern England.
RSPB biodiversity projects officer Dr Jane Sears said: “We have a lot of experience of reintroducing threatened birds to the UK, but this is very different. Releasing invertebrates brings all kinds of new challenges as they can be very sensitive to even the slightest changes in habitat. We will need to keep a close eye on how they are faring and make sure we continue to provide the right conditions for them.
“Although these reintroductions take place on RSPB reserves, none of them would be possible without the resources, expertise and dedication of our partners who include Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, Butterfly Conservation and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. We are very grateful to them and it is great to be working together on some very exciting projects.”