A rare bee that was thought to have become extinct in Northern Ireland 70 years ago has been found at the site where the controversial £100m Bushmills Dunes Golf Resort is to be built.
New research by the University of Reading reveals that the northern colletes bee is clinging on in just a few strongholds in Northern Ireland, including Bushfoot Strand.
Friends of the Earth (FoE) say it is shameful that one of our most threatened species could be affected by the development, which will lie close to the Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland's only World Heritage Site.
The High Court gave the go-ahead for the golf resort and spa earlier this year after the National Trust lost a legal challenge to the planning approval granted by Environment Minister Alex Attwood.
Last year the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the Department of Environment's Species Action Plan for the northern colletes bee warns that the insects at Bushfoot Strand survive only in small aggregations and may be vulnerable to minor disturbances and changes – yet the Environment Minister approved the golf resort.
The bee is so rare that it's thought the UK could hold 50% of its entire population.
Last night the minister said he supported FoE's campaign to save the bee, saying: "I would urge the public to report solitary bee sightings to www2.habitas.org.uk/ records/ and or http://pollinators.biodiversityireland.ie/submit-records/ as solitary bees in general are under-recorded in Northern Ireland.
"With regard to the northern colletes bee specifically, Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) produced a Northern Ireland Species Action Plan for this priority species in 2006 and this plan is being implemented.
"Our recent wet summers are not good news for this bee and solitary bees in general.
"They need warm, sunny weather so on the rare days we get such weather we urge the public to look out for these fascinating creatures, as they are out and about and help NIEA conserve them by reporting any sightings."
FoE NI director James Orr said: "The court decided that Runkerry (the Bushmills Dunes development) can go ahead but it is shameful that one of our most threatened species could be affected by this development in the setting of our only World Heritage Site."
The organisation said the northern colletes bee is highly dependent on wildflowers of the carrot and parsley family.
Its near extinction is linked to the loss of these wildflowers due to intensified farming and urban development such as golf courses.
Identified in 2003 after being presumed extinct in Northern Ireland, the bee can be seen in Ballymaclary nature reserve, Portstewart, White Park Bay, Bushfoot Strand and Umbra nature reserve, Limavady.
FoE said this is because of sensitive grassland management, but more help is needed to join up isolated populations and habitats and that is where people across Northern Ireland can make a difference.
The group said the plight of the northern colletes bee is part of a wider decline in UK bee populations. The UK has lost 20 species of bee since 1900.
A 2012 study showed it would cost farmers £1.8bn a year to replace the pollination service that bees provide for free.
FoE is calling on people to raise the issue of bee decline with their MPs and MLAs, asking them to support a Bee Action Plan and support action to help bees, including identifying and protecting local sites that are important to bees, through the planning system.
It is also urging people to plant bee-friendly flowers and to visit the website at www.foe.co.uk/bees.
Northern colletes bee
Appearance: reddish-gold hair mixed with black on the thorax, and a black abdomen. Males are smaller and paler than females.
Best place to see: Portstewart.
Loves: Plants in carrot and parsley family.
Distribution: The UK makes up 50% of this bee's entire global population.