Whether you love them or hate them, there’s no denying that Britain’s insects are a key part of our ecosystem. From the humble bumblebee who pollinates flowers and crops to the spiders who keep flies at bay (and the flies themselves who keep waste down), insects all play a part in keeping the ecosystem ticking along. In the UK, we’ve got a surprising number of weird and wonderful insects, but sadly a lot of them are under threat of extinction thanks to global warming and increased pesticide use. We’ve put together this handy guide on building your very own bug hotel – perfect for supporting our many-legged friends.
Bug hotels are also a great way to get children interested in the outdoors as it gives them to chance to get to grips with nature. If there’s one thing that gets children excited about going in the garden, it’s the promise of bugs.
Bug hotels have been popping up all over the country. They’re popular in schools and nurseries where they teach children about the importance of biodiversity and looking after the world around them as well as making great projects that children can really get stuck into. Armed with magnifying glasses and plenty of pots and buckets, there’s nothing so fun as spending an afternoon catching bugs. You can now find bug hotels all over the place, if you know where to look – in wildlife centres, the grounds of stately homes or in zoos and parks. There’s even a small bug hotel in the beer garden of my local pub, complete with a welcome sign. We can all do our part to support wildlife and create the opportunity for everyone, not just children, to learn about creepy crawlies.
If you’re short on time or resources, there’s a number of pre-made bug homes and hotels available which can be hung or placed around even the smallest garden. Solitary hives are great for supporting bees, who play an important part in pollinating our plants, and bug barns are great for all sorts of insects.
Remember, it’s not just bugs who’ll appreciate a bug hotel in a garden – they’re also great for hedgehogs, who pop along for a meal and a snooze, or frogs and toads who can hide beneath the old damp wood. A bug hotel which is in an area that gets a lot of sunlight will attract more solitary bumblebees and one near nectar rich flowers will be attractive to butterflies.
Typically, bug hotels follow a general structure which can then be personalised depending on what materials you have to hand. For the “skeleton” of your hotel, you’ll need a few wooden pallets (ideally enough to stack roughly 1m high) and some bricks. Not ordered anything heavy from Primrose lately? Pallets are surprisingly easy to find online through classified websites or freecycling groups, and are usually free as people are keen to get rid of them!
Once you’ve found your pallets, the rest is up to you! To get you started, here’s a basic list of some of the materials you could use for your bug hotel project. Remember: it doesn’t have to be perfect, and virtually any natural materials or garden waste will be well appreciated.
- Strips of old wood
- Broken branches, twigs and sticks
- Dry leaves (or wet leaves!)
- Bamboo sticks
- Hollow canes or stems
- Pinecones, acorns etc
- Straw, hay or dry grass
- Drilled logs
- Old flower pots – plastic or terracotta
- Thick cardboard (corrugated is especially popular with bugs!)
1 – Pick a Spot
Firstly, you need to decide the best place for your bug hotel to go. A bug hotel which gets a lot of light will be more attractive to bees while one near flowerbeds is more likely to encourage butterflies. If you put your hotel near a pond, you might find some amphibian guests hiding in the dark, damp spaces. Typically, bugs tend to be attracted to places that are cool and dark, so make sure your hotel gets some shade.
It’s important to make sure that you use flat ground to make your bug hotel as stable as possible. If you’ve got vegetables growing in your garden, it’s best to build your hotel away from them (unless you want them to get nibbled).
2 – The Base
Once you’ve decided where you’re going to build, it’s time to lay the base of your bug hotel. You can start with laying bricks to elevate the first pallet, but if you can’t find any bricks you can build without them. Stack a few pallets on top of each other until the hotel is as tall as you want. Remember, the higher the hotel, the more bugs – but don’t make it too tall or it might collapse!
When a bug hotel is full, it can be quite heavy, so make sure you put the sturdiest pallets at the bottom.
3 – Fill it Up
This is the fun part! Bugs love nothing more than lots of dark, small spaces that they can hide in – so you’ve got to make lots of tiny spaces (rooms, if you will) where they can go. Essentially, you need to fill all the gaps. This can seem daunting at first, so here’s a few ways you can turn your pallets into a five star hotel.
Bamboo & Canes – bamboo and other hollow canes are great for bugs as they provide a small space for resting and laying eggs. Bamboo is particularly popular with solitary bees. You can either thread bamboo into the hotel loosely (which has the added bonus of providing supporting structures for spiders and other insects) or you can insert several sawn-off pieces into a flower pot to keep them rigid. You can then place the flowerpot facing outwards to provide access to bees. If you don’t have a flowerpot, simply tie several canes together using string.
Rolled up cardboard – Loosely roll up some cardboard (corrugated card works best) and insert it into the gaps in the structure. This makes a great home for all sorts of bugs.
Wood chips, bark and old sticks – A thorough layer of old wood, chips and bark at the bottom of your bug hotel is a great way to encourage borrowing bugs. These environments are perfect for stag beetles, which lay their eggs in rotting wood and are nationally scarce. Remember – if you see a stag beetle in your garden, let the People’s Trust for Endangered Species know!
Straw, hay and dead grass – From bundles of hay and straw to lawn trimmings, you can fill a lot of space with these materials. This is attractive to ladybirds, who are great for the garden as they eat the aphids which can damage plants and vegetables.
Dry sticks and leaves – mimic the forest floor with a layer of dry leaves and smaller sticks.
Drill holes in logs – Again, this is great for solitary bees because it mimics their natural nests. Using a variety of different sized drill heads, make a number of small holes into the flat side of the log and place it pointing outwards from the bug hotel.
Stones, terracotta pots and roofing tiles – Including these in your bug hotel, especially near the bottom, creates a cool and damp place where amphibians love to hide.
Pine cones – pine cones, either loose or bundled into a flower pot, make great hiding places for all sorts of bugs.
Remember, the key to a bug hotel is that there’s lots of different kinds of places for bugs to hide. Try to fill as many of the gaps as possible with a variety of different natural materials to encourage a wider number of species.
4 – Finishing Touches
When you’ve filled your bug hotel, it’s time to add a roof. Slate shingles, tiles or even a sheet of roofing felt is a great way to keep your bug hotel (relatively) dry. For the really daring, you can even make a green roof by covering the top in soil and topping it with a scattering of wildflower seeds.
And that’s it – apart from one final thing that every five-star hotel needs: A sign! You can easily make a garden sign using paint and an old strip of wood or slate. You can even use a garden chalk-board with a waterproof chalk pen so all the bugs in your garden know the best place to spend the night.
Lotti works with the Primrose Product Loading team, creating product descriptions and newsletter headers.
When not writing, Lotti enjoys watching (and over-analyzing) indie movies with a pint from the local craft brewery or cosplaying at London Comic Con.
Lotti is learning to roller skate, with limited success.