People care about bees. As minister for environmental science, I've received thousands of emails, letters and petition signatures calling on the government to act now to protect our bees. And I share their concerns, because bees are vitally important. They pollinate our flowers, fruit and crops, not only brightening our lives, but also saving our farmers something like half a billion pounds a year. In safeguarding their future, we can secure our own.
Over the past few years, we have done a lot of work to find out why bee and pollinator numbers are declining, and how we can protect them. This ranges from committing to increase important habitats by at least 200,000 hectares to spending over £2.5 million on several research projects into why bees and pollinators are in trouble. But it's clear that more needs to be done.
While the media has focused on now-banned neonicotinoid pesticides and their potential impact on bees, the picture is actually very much more complex. Changes in land use, the type of crops grown and climate change all have an impact on bee diversity. But the relative importance of these factors and their interactions is not well understood yet.
That's why, at a Friends of the Earth bee summit last week, I launched an urgent review of what the government, scientists and non-governmental organisations are doing to help bees and pollinators, and how we could do it better. We must develop a clearer understanding of what's harming these insects and how to tackle the problem.
This review will form the basis of a National Pollinator Strategy which will be launched in November. It will bring together all the pollinator-friendly things we're already doing, and provide a framework for new action. We will look across different causes of bee decline and across different bee species and insect pollinators.
To get this underway, we will consult with national experts, holding a frank and open debate on the most recent scientific progress made on pollination and the policies that affect pollinators.
In all of this, we must be led by science. As part of the review, Defra's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Ian Boyd, has formed a group of independent experts to look at the evidence on the state of our pollinators. That group met for the first time in early June to identify gaps in our knowledge and suggest how we can fill them. Professor Boyd's expert group will continue to contribute as we build the evidence that will form the basis of a National Pollinator Strategy.
This plan has already been praised by several groups that have been pressing the government for more action on bees, including Friends of the Earth, who have welcomed the review. It's great that we're now joining together to find a solution to protect our pollinators. We are now taking this forward together so that we can take the action required, based on the best evidence to ensure that our bees, our pollinators, and therefore we, survive and thrive.