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pounds 25,000 grant eases the plight of rarest bumblebee on MoD range; Grant to create a sanctuary at Castlemartin for our rarest bee.

Byline: Graham Henry

FOR years, the majority of objects flying over the turf of Castlemartin firing range have been bullets and bombs from guns and tanks.

But that is now set to change - after a pounds 25,000 grant was awarded to turn part of the site into a sanctuary for Britain's rarest variety of bee.

The high-pitched carder bee - said to be the rarest species of bee in the UK - will be the beneficiary of a scheme to create a protected wildflower habitat.

The Pembrokeshire-based project to convert a six-mile area of land into a wildflower walk beat off competition from five other conservation schemes to win the funding from EOG association for conservation and Trail Magazine.

Voting had been conducted online on the Live for the Outdoors website - with the bumblebee project amassing 59% of the total. The idea was submitted by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in association with the Ministry of Defence and the National Park Authority.

An area of land near Castlemartin army barracks will now be transformed for the benefit of the shrill carder bee.

Dr Pippa Rayner, of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, said that winning the competition could mean the start of a carder bee revival.

"We couldn't be more delighted to have won the vote.

"We have a great belief on just how important and precious bumblebees are - not just to us but to different people across many walks of life," Dr Rayner said.

"There are only six populations of the shrill carder bee left in the UK and three are in Wales.

"The population has been so small that there have been problems with in-breeding - sometimes with females turning into males - and these sorts of schemes can help to give the bees more habitats and more time to forage.

"It's almost impossible to consider the consequences of our pollinators dying out.

"Bumblebees are the only pollinator for some tomato plants and many plants are very pollinatorspecific.

"They not only make a huge contribution to the European economy, but they help maintain the things that are beautiful about the countryside."

The shrill carder bee - noted for its high-pitched buzz - was once a common sight throughout the UK but has since seen its numbers decline rapidly.

Pembrokeshire has become one of the last havens for the bee as it declines across Europe, with only six known populations left in the UK.

The widespread use of pesticides and destruction of their natural habitats in hedgerows, wildflower meadows and roadside verges means that the insects cannot survive the summer months.

The UK has a total of 24 species of bumblebee, but has seen two species become extinct in the last 70 years.

Another six species are designated as priority species by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan for being in need of urgent conservation action.

Mark Pavett, curator of entomology at National Museum Wales, said that the demise of the British bumblebee was reflected in changes in agriculture in the country.

He said: "The introduction of different farming methods has a lot to do with the decline of bumblebees in this country.

"Several species of bumblebee depend on very large areas of unbroken land and that's the situation with the carder bee.

"A lot of insects emerge and feed for two or three weeks in the year and specialise on a group of plants - there are around 10 types of bumblebee that are still doing very well because they can utilise smaller spaces like gardens.

"But other bumblebees can come out in S a source of nectar right through that period."

Mr Pavett said that while the Castlemartin scheme offers hope that a recovery could begin, there needs to be a sea change in how agriculture affects pollinators.

Castlemartin ranger Lynne Houlston said: "Our project includes planting native wildflowers, linking related habitats and working directly to conserve a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species alongside the MOD's proposed creation of a new trail for walkers, cyclists and horse riders."

Sting behind bees Pop star Sting is fronting a new campaign - for bees.

A charity backing the benefits of beekeeping is buzzing after being given celebrity support from Police frontman Sting.

Bees for Development asked the star to lend his backing to their conservation schemes for 4,000 beekeepers in 130 countries.

Sting, 58, agreed to become a patron of the charity based in Monmouth, Gwent.

Spokeswoman Janet Lowore said: "Sting is very interested in conservation - and of course it's very appropriate given his name."

CAPTION(S):

SANCTUARY PLAN: National Park ranger Lynne Houlston looking at grassland suitable for bumblebees at the Castlemartin range CREATING A BUZZ: The rare high-pitched carder bee which can be found at Castlemartin
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 13, 2010
Words:779
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