Homes for bumblebees

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?

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Bee hotels

OPAL Web Editor's picture

Is it just the case for bumblebees? Many species of bee and wasp have made their home in the bee hotels that OPAL West Midlands have used and promoted.

Does anyone have any experience of using one? Sadly I dont have a garden so can't speak from experience myself!

Bee nesting habitat

adambates's picture

Bumblebee nests tend to not be very effective, which is always very disappointing if you've spent money, or time making one. The best plan for bumblebees is to focus on planting to encourage them. Rules of thumb are to ensure flowers are available all through spring, summer and early autumn; and to use wild flowers and the more traditional cottage garden species of plant, rather than modern varieties that have been altered by a lot of selective breeding.

Nest boxes for aerial nesting solitary bees, so-called bee hotels, tend to be much more effective when properly designed and sited. Details of one home-made design, and how to best install it can be found at http://www.opalexplorenature.org/Beehotels Using a similar design, properly sited, I had a nearly 90% occupancy rate over two years in Birmingham.

Just an additional point on the use of bee hotels. I have heard some people saying that bees do not use every tube in a hotel and therefore are being held back by a lack of flowers, rather than a lack of nest space, so there is no point in making a bee hotel. On the surface this sounds like a sensible argument, until you consider that each female bee only has a certain number of eggs, only a certain number of days will be warm enough to provision the nest, and there will only be a certain number of bees in the area to begin with. A lack of total occupancy is not a good reason to say bee hotels don't work. Bees need places to nest and places to gather pollen and nectar. Both are essential.