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Bumblebee Conservation

Insects are pollinators of approximately 80% of all plant species in Europe, including about 150 of the 250 or so plant species that are grown as crops.  Studies have shown that from amongst the many insect pollinators, bumblebees are among the most important wild pollinators, with at least 25 of the major crops grown within the European Union known to be pollinated by bumblebees, including field beans, red clover, alfalfa, oilseed rape and various hard and soft fruits. Thus bumblebees play a critical role in securing food production, and together with other pollinators, it has been calculated that bumblebees contribute more than 22 billion Euros to European agriculture per year. However, bumblebees not only important for commercial crops, many wild flowers in Europe are pollinated mainly or entirely by bumblebees, and sometimes by specific species of bumblebee.

Unfortunately, according to the latest data released by the Status and Trends of European Pollinators (STEP) project, 24% percent of Europe’s 68 bumblebee species are threatened with extinction, and 46% of bumblebee species in Europe have declining populations. The decline in bumblebee abundance in Europe is likely to have serious negative effects resulting in reduced pollination services for some plants. This is in turn likely to have an adverse affect on many plant populations, and may lead to profound changes in plant community structure, which in turn will have knock-on effects for associated animal communities.

The decline in bumblebees can be attributed to a range of factors. The intensification of agriculture and climate change are generally considered the main threats to bumblebees, but other factors for their decline are likely to include pesticides, pollution and destruction of habitat, the latter leading to loss of suitable nest sites for breeding and hibernation. As a result of all these negative factors, many bumblebee populations have become increasingly small, fragmented and separated from one another by large distances (Goulson et al., 2008).

In the light of the many threats facing bumblebees, and the growing evidence for their rapid wide-scale decline, it is vital long-term monitoring of bumblebee populations is undertaken 'in order to build up a picture of the current status of bumblebee species and to establish baselines to which future studies can refer' (Goulson et al., 2008).