The bumble and cuckooo bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Bombini; Bombus spp. and Psithyrus spp., respectively) are important plant pollinators and any decline in numbers or species constitutes a significant threat both to biological diversity and to whole economies. The distribution, status and factors threatening all 60 known taxa (species and subspecies) of Bombini of 11 countries of Western and Central Europe (Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland) were assessed from the beginning of the 20th century. The analysis was based on a literature review, unpublished data, personal communications, our own observations, and an expert review. The IUCN Red List categories were used for assessing the threat of extinction. Eighty per cent of taxa were threatened in at least one country of the region, and 30% of taxa were threatened throughout their range in the countries considered. More species went extinct per country in the second than in the first half of the 20th century, and four taxa went extinct in all 11 countries during 1951–2000. Amongst the factors adversely affecting the Bombini anthropogenic factors (particularly those associated with large-scale farming schemes) appear to be of greater importance than natural factors. To halt population declines and species extinctions it will be necessary to preserve aspects of traditional farming practices and for all Bombini to be afforded legal protection in all countries of the region. The implementation of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy is likely to have the greatest single impact upon pollinators in the near future.