Plummeting numbers of bees, butterflies and other insect populations are placing world food supplies under threat, a United Nations report has warned.

Millions of people's livelihoods are also at risk, researchers say.

The first global assessment of creatures that pollinate crops found up to two in five are sliding towards extinction.

Pesticides, urbanisation, intensive farming, disease and climate change are among the threats to apples, blueberries, coffee, chocolate and other crops worth up to £400billion a year. The food sector also provides millions of jobs, while the vitamins and minerals in key crops help keep malnutrition at bay.


Vera Lucia Imperatriz-Fonseca, the study's Brazilian co-chairman, said: 'Pollinators are important contributors to world food production and nutritional security. Their health is directly linked to our own well-being.'

Reading University's Professor Simon Potts, lead author of the report, added: 'We are in a period of decline and there are going to be increasing consequences.' Delegates from 124 nations approved the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

'Regional and national assessments of insect pollinators indicate high levels of threat, particularly for bees and butterflies,' it says. 'The variety and multiplicity of threats to pollinators and pollination generate risks to people and their livelihood?...?largely driven by changes in land cover and agricultural management systems, including pesticide use.'

In Europe, 9 per cent of bee and butterfly species are under threat of extinction. Two of the UK's 25 bumblebee species have died out since the start of the century and the number of honeybees has halved since the 1980s. Britain's butterflies are also in decline, with numbers almost halving in the past 40 years.

The report says there are ways of reversing the trend, including organic farming, planting patches of wild flowers to attract pollinators to crops, and reducing use of pesticides.

Dennis VanEngelsdorp, a bee expert at Maryland University in the US, said there is no time to lose, adding: 'Everything falls apart if you take the pollinators out of the game. If we want to say we can feed the world in 2040, pollinators are going to be part of that.'

- Daily Mail