Anger growing over Swedish bee imports

Bombus subterraneus

Bombus subterraneus (photo credit: James K. Lindsey)

It may have been a good news story for British conservationists with the proposed re-introduction of the short-haired bumblebee to Kent. But there is growing anger in Sweden that their population of the species may be put under risk by the project.

It’s not just locals who are concerned about the British scientists heading out this weekend to start the collection of 100 queen bees. Important conservationists from Skane are concerned over the plans and some have claimed that there has been no local consultation over the plans.

Skania region Environmental Director is quoted as saying “If they succeed, we will barely have any left” (google translated) in the daily newspaper

Annelie Johansson, Environmental Director at the County Administrative Board in Skåne said, “Picking the 100 queen bumble bees here is a great risk that we end up in the same situation as in the UK, to become extinct.

Local and regional authorities are concerned that they have no power to halt the collection of the bees because they are not listed as endangered in the country. 

The only thing we can do is try to get hold of them, to appeal to them and getting them to understand how inappropriate it is to impoverish this species’ existence in Scania“, says Annelie Johansson.

The recently retired head of the Natural History Museum in Sweden, Lars-Ake Janzon, thinks that friendly appeals are not enough and accuse the British scientists of acting like imperialists going around and just taking stuff that they want. He questions their conservation ethic by imposing substantial pressure on a bee species that is in decline in Sweden. 

He suggests that the UK Research Council should examine the plans to remove 100 queen bees from Sweden to determine it suitability.

With the growing discontent of major players in the Swedish conservation movement including leading authority figures questions have to be asked over just how much discussion has taken place between the British scientists and their Swedish counterparts.

Comments from our previous story has also shown concern over the lack of consultation and the threat to the Swedish population of bees. 

With the scientists due to fly out tomorrow (Sunday) there’s not just field work but a whole lot of relationship repairing to do.

Update 6th June 2013:

Sadly it appears that the transplanted bees from Sweden failed to make it through the first year and more bees are now being imported to try and re-establish the local UK population again.

Within a short time of the bees being released the weather changed and last summer poor weather and long cold winter and spring this year means few if any of the introduced bees have survived for a second season.


External sites: Skånska bees risk of extinction. (in Swedish but you can use an online translator).

Posted in Insects and tagged , .
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  1. Amazing how these bees have been used to whip up Nationalist Sentiment. The conservation movement will have to watch this. As will everyone else if we want a future on this planet.

  2. Thank you to all contributers for comments and suggestions, which we will take on board. It is great to see that so many people share our passion for these important insects.

    I am please to paste below the official statement on this matter, issued jointly with the Skåne authorities.

    “County Administration supports the British bumblebee project”

    County Administrative Board in Skåne County met today with representatives of the short-haired bumblebee project whose goal is to reintroduce the species from Skåne (Sweden) to the UK. Today’s meeting was a so-called consultation, as the law requires, in this case to ensure that the project does not damage the Scanian short-haired bumblebee population.

    “During the meeting, we received all of the relevant information and can confirm that short-haired bumblebees will be collected from several locations, and that the project team will take a maximum of five individuals from any one site. This means that there is no risk to the Scanian short-haired bumblebee would disappear because of this”, says environmental director Annelie Johansson from the County Administrative Board of Skåne.

    The British scientists will, in the coming weeks, gather queens from over thirty sites in southern and western Skåne. The bumblebees will then be reintroduced in Kent.

    “We look forward to our continued partnership and to sharing our research. We also hope to be able to reciprocate this kindness in the future”, said Dr. Nikki Gammans, project officer for the short-haired bumblebee project.

    The short-haired bumblebee has declined sharply in Europe and is currently only viable in Sweden. In Britain, the species became extinct at the end of the 1980s. The species thrives in open countryside, provided that this does not become too intensively managed. There must be semi-natural areas, field margins and the like with flowering plants.

    “It is gratifying to see the commitment to the Skåne short-haired bumblebee. It shows the importance of biodiversity for the people of Skåne”, says Annelie Johansson.

    For further information on the project, visit:

    • Hi Dr Darvill

      Many thanks for the clarification on the project. I think a lot of people will be reassured by the statement.

      It is amazing how a small mis-understanding can have such an impact on people. We had lots of emails about the situation after the original story was published and a lot of comments from really upset people did not make it through the moderation proccess here.


  3. Glad to hear Bumlebee Conservation Trust takes this very seriously. Buzzkill has written excellent summarizing. People in Sweden read what is written in your country. There are headlines like “Bringing our bees back” and not a single word of gratitude as if you go to a small country and take what you want without giving anything back. We can also read about the failure with the bumblebees from New Zeeland and 60 queens you took from us last year. It is easy to think “first you killed the ones in your country and then you killed the ones in New Zeeland and know you are going to kill the Swedish populations”.
    I guess it isn’t that bad but I think the tune has to be more respectful. It is natural – unfortunately – to care more about the spot you live in than other parts of the world but you must act as if you cared about us.
    First of all: information about how many queens there are in scania so we can be sure this project won’t make any harm. Then you must act in a respectful way that makes us proud to be a part of the project. When you write about it, do not write only to Brits, write to us in Sweden too and say thank you.

  4. Bureaucrats and journalists are the big culprits in this story, but honestly I still want to chide the British and Swedish scientists behind the project for not having been more diligent in communicating with Swedish authorities. Bureaucratic cock-ups between national and regional authorities seem like a danger they could have anticipated and tried to preempt. Cederberg is beginning to come across as rather draconian, “ruling” over the bumblebees of Skåne while situated in distant Uppsala. Scanians have a history of feeling antagonized, dominated and looked-down-on by other Swedes. Did the Brits have any inkling that regional sensitivities like this might exist?

    Also, the British scientists behind the project seem to be quite active with the British public (arranging outreach events, etc) but nothing similar has been done to involve the Swedish/Scanian public in a positive way. This reinforces the feel of unilateralism. Especially when the locals only find out about the whole thing from newspaper articles with a rather negative spin, a couple of days before the critical phase of the project is about to start.

    For my own part, I’m hoping that the fears of Johansson and Janzon (that 100 queens would be disproportionately many to remove) turn out to be unfounded (as I do like the idea of Sweden/Skåne helping England get a lost species back). But I can’t know that yet. Either way, it’s a shame that their fears were not registered until now.

  5. Recent events are very troubling and are being taken extremely seriously by the project steering group (Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Natural England, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Hymettus).

    We are taking urgent action to understand the situation, to listen to views and to reach a resolution.

    Please expect a further statement from the project steering group in the near future.

    Kind regards,

    Dr. Ben Darvill
    CEO, Bumblebee Conservation Trust (UK)

    • Thank heavens! That will clear up the missunderstandings.

      I hope you can invite a journalist to a field trip in Skåne, and make a reassurment on the local impact of subt. bumblebees.

      The good part of all this is that it has made people aware of the vulnerability of bumblebees in Sweden. I cant remember last time when bumblebees made national news. But there is still a bit of explanaition to do, some are not yet convinced that the project won’t harm the bumblebee population (bear in mind, the news the other day was that they could go “extinct” because of the project).

    • Well, since you and the responsible researchers have done NOTHING to address the public in Sweden – we assume you are putting out FUD PR bull***t!

      Why, well you and those researchers involved seem to restrict information coming from your group – and does not provide the public with enough information (including limiting twitter post since the event).

      Zero news about this f**kup, which apparently is from a scientific respect utterly immoral, is proof enough for me and other. We are not stupid, we love science.

      And we don’t need you to have these bees, for free, were I grew up. I have seen them decline since birth in our gardens! Still, my sentiment is that if you don’t show the proper respect you should not be privileged to free, without cost, help.

      You have engendered species in England that would never be offered too Sweden this freely. I.e., we need species from you too. Shame!

      • Not quite correct Anders – if there were endagered species that had recovered (it does happen – check out buzzards) sufficiently to export somewhere where they want to reintroduce it then it would likely be presented as a “Good News story”. Mind you, our famous Sun newspaper (well it’s a comic really) might start comparing it to the Viking raids on Lindisfarne!

  6. And the project leader has a blog and a twitteraccount but says nothing more than “misunderstanding” to all who cares about the bumblebees in Sweden …

    • She’s probably on the ferry between the UK and Denmark right now. She blogged they were going that way.

  7. Incompetent bureaucrats and over-enthused journos at play. Going by the latest Swedish articles, here’s a little retrospective timeline I made of how we got to this point:

    – With assistance from entymologist Björn Cederberg, the British project gets a go-ahead from the Swedish Ministry of Rural Affairs. Said ministry fails to inform or consult with Annelie Johansson, environmental director for the Skåne County Administrative Board (or Johansson fails to register that information).

    – Shortly before the British team is due to come to Sweden in order to collect the bees, British news outlets report on the project in an upbeat sort of way.

    – Swedish news agency Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå picks up on this reporting and wants to hear the Swedish side of the story. TT first contacts the Ministry of the Environment, which refers it to the Ministry of Rural Affairs, which at this point claims to have no knowledge or involvement in the project and refers TT onward to the Environmental Protection Agency, which refers it back to Rural Affairs. Rural Affairs finally refers it to the Skåne County Administrative Board.

    – TT contacts Annelie Johansson who, conferring with some unnamed expert in this field of study, is shocked and appalled to learn of the project, saying the loss of 100 queens would be a disaster. Smelling a good story, TT reports on the “imperialist British thieves” who are making short-haired bumblebees go extinct in Skåne in order to reintroduce the species to the UK, completely unsanctioned by Swedish authorities. Getting a good, incendiary quote from retired biologist Lars-Åke Janzon (formerly of the Museum of Natural History) as well, Swedish news outlets run the story.

    – The Swedish public gets angry.

    – Next day (today), it becomes known that the Ministry of Rural Affairs actually has sanctioned the project after all. Swedish news outlets report on this and make the whole “save our bumblebees” groundswell seem like some kind of mob mentality, when in fact they had spurred it on in the first place with incendiary headlines like “Scanian bumblebees may be exterminated by Brits” and “Brits mean to steal Skåne’s bumblebees”.

    – At any rate, the Skåne County Administrative Board and Janzon remain opposed to the project, but can’t really stop it as it’s been sanctioned at a higher level. The British team along with Cederberg seem to be hammering things out with the Skåne County Administrative Board at this time, as they don’t want to go against the regional administration and do something that’s viewed as deeply impopular with the Swedish public (and particularly the people of Skåne). It remains to be seen if Johansson will change her stance. I’m also hoping the Brits will participate in the public debate here in Sweden. I think we deserve to be talked to directly.

    • Just a small correction.

      The correct translation of “Jordbruksverket” is “The swedish board of agriculture”, not the Ministry of rural affairs.

    • Very good summarizing.

      I cant say that their Swedish collegue, Björn Cederberg att SLU calmed down the situation either. And the fact that he’s from Uppsala seemed to upset some Scanians into “why can’t they take the bumblebees from Uppsala instead?”

      It is very weird that no one in the Britisch bumblebee project have talked to the media. The media have tried to reach them and their manager Nikki Gammans but no one gets a comment.

      Everyone loves bumblebees, and when there’s news that foreigners are coming to make them extinct locally in Skåne, well it makes buzz.

      A maker of the facebook group “Rädda humlorna” (save the bumble bees) were in the TV news today :)

      The story is fantastic.

  8. I don’t know how to run struff through google translate, but here’s another article for you:

    Appearently, they do have the permission of jordbruksverket, but at the same time there seem to be a lot of dispute on wether or not the decision was truly an informed one. The Swedish expert involved, Björn Cederberg, says he can sympathise with the negative reaction, but adds: “Initially, I was skeptic as well, but then Idiscovered the scientists are actually serious and want to do this in a responsible way”. That is about all the clarification he gives on why he decided to go along with the plans of the Brittish scientists. No word on how it will affect the Swedish bumble bee population. No signs of having actually carefully analyzed the situation.

      • As a skåning I’m not surprised that Jordbruksverket and a professor from Uppsala chose to gamble the Scanian population rather than the ones in Gotland and Uppland… It would have been far better to collect a little amount of queens in these three different areas, than 160 queens from the Scanian population and very small area.

        • I agree with Ida.

          I also wonder about the biotopes in the areas where the bumblebees are to be introduced. The previous, and somewhat indigenous, bumble bee population died. Apparently, or as a direct consequence of changed biotope that would no longer support a large enough and sustainable bumble-bee population. What has been done to create the required biotope? If all you do is bring a bunch of bumble bee queens into an area but without the needed biotope to support it, then they are destined to suffer the same fate as the indigenous bumble-bee population.

          I haven’t been able to understand whether the import attempt from New Zeeland was un-succesful in lack of the needed biotope or during the transport.

          It might, as it seems, have been cleared. I still question the the mere ethical issues of it all. Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.

          • My understanding about the failure of the New Zealand attempt is there were 3 main reasons:

            1. Bees transplanted from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere do not survive very well.

            2. Import restrictions means that wild bees can not be bought into the UK from outside the EU so they had to catch wild bees and then captive breed them to bring in the captive bred bees. The team were not successful in producing sufficient captive bred queens.
            3. New Zealnd bees while orginating in the UK are highly inbred and may not be strong enough genetically for success reintroduction.

            THe failed attempt together with the details of the bee re-introduction and Swedens involvement can be read about in the latest report
            Hymettus: The short-haired bumblebee reintroduction project report 2009-2011 (pdf).

      • So, Björn Cederberg is hoping the operation will help spread awareness about the threatened situation of the Swedish bumblebee. How nice of him ^__^

  9. Dear British imperialists, thank you for your interest in bumblebees from our province of Skåne, Sweden. It may interest you that we are starting an expedition to the British isles in May, where we intend to capture a great number of european otters and red squirrels to be brought to Sweden for display. We hope you don’t mind.

    • That’s fine mate, but it would be better if you could refrain from too much rape and pillage and keep the taxes reasonable this time!

  10. To bring bumblebees to another country from sweden requires special permit from the “Jorbruksverket”. I hope they got this permit or else this is highly unethical hijacking and potential risk of spreading deceases that might spread outside to other bumblebees.

  11. According to the Swedish Board of Agriculture, any export of bees or bumblebees from Sweden to another country within the EU, must be approved at least 30 days in advance. I wonder if such pemit exists …

  12. So why did they die in the first place in “great” britain? whatever the cause was the outcome points to the fact that something would have been wrong in order for a whole species get extinct. Either its evolutional or manmade. Its the natural order of things. Why do you pressume that a new line will succseed if the old one died? Ignorant to the fact of nature if you ask me.

    If i crash my car I dont go walsing in to my neighbour and takes one of his becuase he has 4 cars and only drive one at a time. That would be a crime, it is kinda sad that you would have to make up laws for everything to prevent stupid people from taking what does not belong to them.

  13. So ,will there be anyone minding your flats while you are here stealing bees?
    Because i could use a new TV and some other stuff.

    I hope you don’t mind….

  14. I have looked a bit at Nikki Gammans blog. It says that “Sweden has been very supportive of this move”, but it only mentions one person in Sweden, a bumblebee recorder for Skane.
    A recent publication in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (Bommarco et al. 2011) show that B. subterraneus only makes up 2%, by proportion, of the native Swedish bumblebee populations. It doesn’t on the surface sound like a species which is “thriving”.
    B. subterraneus occurs in 3 colour forms in Sweden. Historically Britain only had one of these forms. Does that mean that 100 queens of only 1 colour form will be collected? That would surely be bad news for the genetic diversity of this species, even if it weren’t made extinct.

  15. Another interesting thing is that, according to another old blog post by Gamman, 60 queens were taken from Skåne last year for a preliminary disease screening. I would very much like to know how big of a dent that left on the remaining population. Is this a twice-ravaging of our short-haired bumblebee population, or was the environmental director too quick-spoken in saying the loss of 100 queens could be devastating (because the people behind the project seem to be proceeding like last year’s catch of 60 queens was but a drop in the sea)? And related to the above question, how ethical was that study?

  16. The story is really growing here in Sweden, it’s making headlines now.

    Something must have gone wrong in this project, didn’t anyone contact the authorities? The Swedish counterparts, what level are they on? Are they researchers to, doing this bumblebee project on their spare time?

    Before becoming a politicial issue, the project must be halted in order to get authority support.

  17. There may be more to this than meets the eye – an older blog post by Nikki Gamman, head of the project, alleges that “Sweden has been very supportive of this move” and mentions the (official?) “bumblebee recorder” for Skåne being involved, suggesting an unfortunate misunderstanding or disconnect somewhere along the line. But at any rate, the way this is being reported in Swedish media, especially with the claim by Skåne’s (quite horrified and entirely surprised) environmental director that there won’t be many short-haired bumblebee queens left if 100 are taken from here, the project comes across as outrageously unilateral, arrogant and capricious, and potentially like it’s deliberately being done on the sly. I for one am anxiously awaiting thorough explanations from the project leaders and the four organizations behind the project, as well as any potential Swedish groups or authorities that have supported the project but failed to pass word forward. Feathers have been ruffled for sure.

    • It seems they’ve spoken to ONE person about this, working at SLU, Swedish agriculture university in Uppsala. No one really knows how many queens we have, they’re just guessing. The records they’re referring to is called “artdatabanken”, a record over species. They can’t seriously refer to this as “contact with Scanian/Swedish authorities” as the authorities in Scania obviously are extremely upset about this. And so are the people living here. As someone said, maybe this professor in Uppsala prefer them to take Scanian bumblebees instead of those close to his university. Uppsala is one of three areas here in Sweden where they live.

      This team have already taken 60 queens from Scania last year! So far this spring I’ve seen one single bumblebee of this particular type (I live in Scania and in the area they plan to harvest). We really don’t have many bumblebees. There’s one thing UK can do to get their population back – to recreate the areas they need and stop using chemicals that kills them. When that is done, they will return. But don’t destroy our wildlife for your own sake. We’ve worked hard to preserve our threatend species, and then these arrogant persons come here to destroy it. Yes, arrogant. I know people wrote comments about this on their blog yesterday, yet there’s not one single comment published. I hope UK and the universities involved will stop these mad persons from destroying our environment.

  18. hey get the f**k out of our country .
    if you want bumblebee’s you should have taken care of your own population
    you want the queen’s ask first !
    who the f**k do you think you are!
    if i want something from you i would ask not just go to you and take what i wanted.
    maybe that’s what you want us to do to you .

    • Sorry mate, we picked up some bad habits from our viking ancestors!

  19. Not for nothing, but how about asking. This seems like kind of a d**k move on the part of the British Scientists, decimating the Scania native bee population without proper wildlife management which is EXACTLY how I recommend you do this.

    Identify 100 colonies, and take a couple of the 2nd generation queens when they hatch and attempt to go forth into the world, it seems logical enough, that one could obtain many times the number of queens necessary if the management was done properly over a number of seasons, instead of pillaging the indigenous populations.

  20. Thank you for the article – it is the only english news I have read so far which highlights this issue. I am a British biologist with Swedish connections. All the news articles in Sweden are negative (not just the Dagens Nyheter article you cited). The procedure sounds in extremely bad taste if there has been limited or no consultation with Swedish bumblebee specialists. I have written to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and would be very interested to hear who they collaborate with in Sweden, and whether any assesment on the impact of removing 100 queen bees has been done.

  21. Your scientists are most welcome. I live in the centre of Skåne and am very aquatinted to the area. There is a certain location where bumblebees are
    especially abundant. It’s just next to a pitch black bottomless lake. I would be delighted to show it for the professors.

    • How very civilised, thanks mate. I’m sure they won’t do anything stupid (we have banks and businessmen for that). A bit of international cooperation goes a long way!

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