13/03/2014 06:38 GMT | Updated 12/05/2014 06:59 BST

Bee Action Plan - We Must Sting UK Government Into Tougher Action To Protect Our Pollinators

It's hard to imagine a world without the familiar springtime buzz of bees among the blossom. We need bees to pollinate our food and keep our gardens and countryside blooming.

But unless we take decisive action to protect these iconic species now, we face a drab landscape lacking wildflowers and a diet that costs us more, but is less tasty and nutritious.

Consider a situation where farmers are in the ridiculous position of having to pay to pollinate crops by hand. Think that sounds far-fetched? It's already happening in parts of China and India. Research by University of Reading scientists shows it would cost the UK an added £1.8 billion to hand-pollinate our crops every year.

In recent years Britain's bees have taken a battering. Their crucial habitats are disappearing, with 97% of wildflower meadows lost in the past 60 years. At the same time, our bees have had to battle intensive farming, pesticides, poor weather, and pests and diseases. As a result, bee populations have plummeted. Over 20 species have already become extinct - and more than a quarter of those remaining (71 out of 267) are under threat.

Yet last week, in a move largely ignored by the national media, the Government took the first steps towards throwing them a lifeline, with the publication of its draft National Pollinator Strategy (NPS).

The good news is that Ministers have recognised the scale of the challenge facing British bees. The bad news is that the proposal needs considerable strengthening in the weeks ahead if it's to be effective.

Two years ago mounting concern about the plight of the humble bee led Friends of the Earth to launch our Bee Cause campaign for a national Bee Action Plan to tackle all the causes of bee decline. A powerful coalition of MPs, scientists and charities - along with tens of thousands of members of the public - convinced the Government to agree to introduce a National Pollinator Strategy.

To make the draft NPS fit for purpose, it now needs improving in four key areas.

Intensive farming has had a huge impact on the decline of our bees and other pollinators. 70% of UK land is used for agriculture, so supporting farmers to shift to more bee-friendly methods is crucial. The Government's NPS must do much more to fund and promote sustainable farming techniques.

Action on pesticides is also an urgent requirement. Evidence shows how toxic chemicals are harming bees' health. The Government needs to get tough on pesticides - and develop a real plan to help get farmers off the chemical treadmill.

Developers too must play their part. There is currently far too little onus on them to safeguard pollinators. Better action is needed to improve land use so bee habitats increase with development, not the reverse.

We also need clarity on the funding of action. The Government cannot just rely on people's goodwill to act to save bees. It should also lead nationwide action by putting its money where its mouth is.

Bees Minister Lord de Mauley has until the summer to make sure his Bee Action Plan is good enough to really reverse bee decline in the UK for good.

Around the country, people are already doing their bit to help, planting 'bee worlds' - areas with the right plants and wildflowers to give bees the food and shelter they need. I saw one on a visit to Leicester: local activists were developing a bee meadow on a patch of scrub grassland. Since that visit, I've watched progress from afar: wildflowers planted to attract pollinators have bloomed and the area has indeed brought bees flooding back - and I've now decided to plant half my lawn with bee friendly flowers.

If we're to replicate this across the country, the Government must do its bit to deliver significant nationwide changes in farming, protect habitats and cut pesticide use to give bees a buzzing chance of survival - and with it, safeguard the future of our food, farms and countryside.

Friends of the Earth is urging people concerned about the plight of British bees to respond to the public consultation by signing a petition calling on Bees Minister Lord de Mauley to improve the NPS.