I've just been reading an article in BBC Wildlife magazine which says that recent research has shown that artificial bumblebee nest boxes just don't seem to work. In the study they refer to (from the Journal for Nature Conservation) only 3.1% of the artificial nest boxes studied were occupied by bumblebees. This isn't the first time that I've read that bumblebee boxes aren't effective. The Sheffield based BUGS project concluded the same, and also investigated quite a wide range of wildlife friendly gardening techniques. Some were effective, others less so.
With all the effort we put into gardening, how do we know what to do to support our wildlife at the same time, and which activities may be a waste of time and effort? The BUGS project is a good place to start. There are also lots of wildlife gardening books and websites around to give you advice - just do a web search for 'wildlife gardening' and a whole host of material is provided. One book that the museum's Wildlife Garden team used to create our beautiful 'Sensational Butterflies' exhibition garden was Jan Miller-Klein's 'A book on Gardening for Butterflies, Bees and other beneficial insects - a how to guide'.
There really isn't that much research out there to inform us whether particular methods of wildlife gardening are effective or not. The average garden will already be home to hundreds of species of invertebrate, so we're doing something right! If you're thinking of improving your garden for wildlife, why not find out just how much is there already by taking part in the OPAL Bugs Count survey - repeating it a year later after you've made improvements for wildlife in your garden might make for an interesting comparison?