Individually they are tiny creatures, buzzing by on a summer’s breeze in search of sweet nectar, while together they are the vital element that keeps plants and flowers flourishing.

With names such as ashy mining and red-shanked carder, bees and other tiny pollinators are a vital ingredient in much of our food.

But a report has now shed fresh light on just how finely balanced our tiny pollinators’ lives really are, with rapidly declining numbers and a potential threat to the future of agriculture.

The findings of the UK-wide study have sparked calls for Scottish gardeners to take up their trowels in the fight to save bees, wasps and other pollinators by taking steps to encourage them into their gardens.

One expert has even warned that the loss of pollinators in Scottish rural locations caused by industrial-scale agriculture is so great, that there are often healthier populations of insects to be found in urban settings.

According to scientists from the Centre For Ecology And Hydrology in Oxfordshire, wild bees and hoverflies have suffered widespread losses across the UK, posing a potential future threat to agriculture.

The study showed that, between 1980 and 2013, one- third of more than 300 species studied experienced a drop in their numbers.

While there was some good news, with 11 per cent of species becoming more abundant – thought to be partly thanks to concerted efforts to plant wildflowers alongside crops – the study warns the overall biodiversity loss could be harbouring problems for years to come.

Scientists analysed data from across the UK, including sites in Scotland. It showed species in upland areas of northern Britain had the highest levels of decline.

Spokesman Dr Gary Powney said: “While the increase in key crop pollinators is good news, they are still a relatively small group of species. Therefore, with species having declined overall, it would be risky to rely on this group to support the long-term food security for our country. If anything happens to them in the future, there will be fewer other species to step up and fulfil the essential role of crop pollination.”

A total of 353 bee and hoverfly species, all known pollinators, were included in the study, which focused on about 19,000 “cells” each covering a square kilometre of countryside.

On average, the geographic range of bees and hoverflies was shown to have declined by about one-quarter, with greater losses in the upland areas of northern Britain.

Environmental measures put in place by farmers, such as growing wild flowers in the margins of crop fields, were thought to have contributed to a 12% increase in dominant pollinators.

Hardest-hit pollinators included the red-shanked carder bee, which has declined by an estimated 42% in some parts of England and Wales, and the smooth-gastered furrow bee, which is down by 40%.

Among those thriving, thought to be thanks to pollination programmes, include the ashy mining bee, the ivy bee and the lobe-spurred furrow bee.

Researchers say they are now waiting to see whether a 2013 EU temporary ban on the widespread use of insecticides known as neonicotinoids, which was made permanent last year, may help species recover.

Dr Max Coleman, of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, said previous Scottishbased research has indicated similar declines in pollinator populations.

He said: “The issues here are very much around agriculture and how we farm the land – industrial agriculture is not very wildlife friendly.

“Hedgerows have been removed, chemicals used to keep away pests and there’s a very uniform environment within which it’s hard for insects to exist, feed and nest.

“We might imagine the countryside is where the wildlife is found and not in urban areas, but it is actually the other way around. There can be quite a healthy population in urban areas where there are gardens that are all different and which create diversity.”

He has now called for gardeners – even in busy city centres – to pay particular attention to introducing “bee-friendly” plants and insect boxes in an attempt to help boost numbers, and to take time to learn about which species are visiting their plants.

Mr Coleman added: “It is an alarming situation. The things we take for granted, such as apples, pears, raspberries, strawberries, all need pollinators. Without them, we have a major problem.”

Matt Shardlow, chief executive of the charity Buglife, said: “This new paper provides further evidence, were it needed, that our pollinators are in trouble and that the health of our environment and food supply cannot be taken for granted.

“Solitary bees, rare bees and bees and hoverflies that live in the uplands are in particular trouble and need urgent help.”

A spokesman for Scottish Natural Heritage said: “We know from available information that wild pollinators across the UK are facing significant pressures as a result of changes in land use, habitat fragmentation, climate change, diseases and pesticides.

“The Pollinator Strategy for Scotland is a detailed 10-year strategy setting out the actions we and our many partners are taking to tackle these issues and help our pollinators.

“Working together on pollinator-friendly projects, we are creating and improving habitat for pollinators, providing courses to help volunteers identify and record species, encouraging developers to include habitats for pollinators in their projects, providing guidance and advice for land managers and supporting robust and improved monitoring and surveying.”