Rare insects released in the Highlands to boost population

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The biggest ever releases to boost Britain’s critically endangered wild population of pine hoverflies are being carried out 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.

Dr Helen Taylor and Kevin Robertson releasing pine hoverfly. Pine hoverflies became critically endangered in Britain due to land use change and deforestation resulting in the loss of the ancient pine forests they called home.

‘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: ‘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.’

Andy Ford, head of conservation at the Cairngorms National Park Authority, said: ‘The Cairngorms National Park is home to one quarter of the UK’s rare and endangered species, including the pine hoverfly, and it is great to see a project based in the Cairngorms leading the way in protecting species from extinction in the wild.’