Animals, Conservation, How To, Lotti, Wildlife

bug hotel

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.

children with bugs

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
  • Moss
  • Dry leaves (or wet leaves!)
  • Woodchips
  • Bamboo sticks
  • Hollow canes or stems
  • Soil
  • Sand
  • Bark
  • Pinecones, acorns etc
  • Straw, hay or dry grass
  • Drilled logs
  • Old flower pots – plastic or terracotta
  • Thick cardboard (corrugated is especially popular with bugs!)
insect hotel
Insect Hotel 2 by Zakhx150 is licensed under CC BY 3.0

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.

pallets

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.

bamboo canes

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.

drilled logs

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.

Hotel Primrose

Jenny at PrimroseLotti 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.

See all of Lotti’s posts.

Animals, Current Issues, Lotti, Wildlife

How much attention do you pay to your windshield when you’re zipping down the M40 on your way to work? Probably not a lot – most of us are too busy watching what’s happening on the road in front of us. Next time you go on a long car journey, keep an eye out and see if you notice one of the biggest signs that Britain’s insects are in decline: the lack of squashed bugs on the glass. When I was a kid, we used to take long journeys down to Cornwall a few times a year. I remember, distinctly, the mess of bugs splattered on the glass. In fact, even a shorter journey would result in a filthy windscreen and a lot of complaining from my Dad. The lack of bugs isn’t something I noticed until I read about it online – and once I had noticed, I couldn’t stop noticing.

Of course, squashing bugs with your car isn’t a good thing, but this realisation – called The Windscreen Phenomenon (and, yes, that’s what entomologists call it) – is just one small indicator that Britain’s bugs are in trouble. In the UK, insects are currently struggling to survive (as are lots of animals, plants and birds) against increased urbanisation, use of stronger pesticides in farms and gardens and the ongoing effects of climate change. The State of Nature Report suggested a 59% decline in insects in the UK since the 70s, but how many of us noticed, and how many of us cared?

Often, insects and invertebrate have a bad reputation with the general public as people dismiss them for being ugly, boring or scary. Endangered mammals like dormice are popular thanks to their cuteness, and at-risk birds like the cuckoo are iconic and enduring. People often dismiss British insects for their more exciting overseas cousins – huge iridescent beetles in Africa or giant spiders in Australia. Aside from butterflies and (occasionally) bees, bugs in the UK just don’t get the best press when compared to their cuddly counterparts.

When you think of British bugs, you probably imagine the humble ladybird or the friendly bumble bee. Some of us might immediately think of the not-so-fearsome house spider or the spindly daddy long legs with his long, wispy limbs. What a lot of people don’t realise is that the UK is host to a whole range of exciting and interesting insects and invertebrate hiding right under our feet! We’ve put together a list of some interesting and unusual British bugs to demonstrate how diverse these creatures can be.

Warning: If you don’t like insects and spiders, you might not want to continue scrolling!

The Ladybird Spider

Ladybird spider
Eresus Sandaliatus Hoge Veluwe (1) by Viridiflavus is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This tiny, brightly-coloured spider was thought to be completely extinct in the UK until a small population was found in Dorset in the 1980s. Female ladybird spiders can reach up to 16mm long and the males only 9mm, the males boasting distinctive red and black colouring which gives them their adorable-sounding name. It’s easy to see why this little spider could be confused for the more common ladybird with its striking red abdomen and dark black spots. After a push to support dwindling Ladybird Spider numbers in Dorset, there are now eight wild populations in the heathlands, but in order to really keep it safe at least 20 populations need to be established.

The Lobster Moth

Lobster moth
Stauropus fagi larva by Wilhelm Helmut is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Lobster Moth is an interesting addition to this list because the moth itself is particularly interesting – while being significantly fluffier than a standard house moth, its mottled grey form isn’t going to catch anyone’s eye. The caterpillar, however, is probably the most unusual bug you’re likely to come across in the UK. With a round, alien-like head, a large ‘tail’ and long legs, it looks very similar to the crustacean from which it gets its name. As it matures, it develops “bumps” along its body and darkens, resembling a dead leaf, which makes it quite hard to spot in the wild. These unusual creatures are found all over Europe but in the UK are mostly found in Southern woodlands.

Stag Beetles

stag beetle

Stag beetles are probably one of the most famous beetles in the world, known for their fierce looking pincers, dark wing-cases and long legs. You’ve probably seen stag beetles on TV or maybe at a zoo or animal park and they get their name from their distinctive, antler-like mandibles. In Japan, these beetles are often popular pets and can be found in pet shops and even department stores! It might surprise you to learn, then, that these impressive beetles are actually a native UK species. Often seen flying around at dusk in the summer months as they search for a mate, these giant insects prefer warmer temperatures and low rainfall so are most common in the south, but can be found all over the country.

Stag beetles can spend a staggering seven years in their larval form hidden deep underground or amongst rotting wood before eventually emerging as an adult to mate. Despite their sharp-looking mandibles, Stag Beetles are not harmful and the adults cannot eat solid food, instead drinking sap. Stag Beetles are currently one of Britain’s rarest beetles due to the devastating effect of deforestation as there simply isn’t enough rotting wood for larvae to hatch in and feed on. If you’ve seen a stag beetle in the wild, please take part in the People’s Trust for Endangered Species survey to help researchers track wild populations in the UK.

Elephant Hawk Moth

Deilephila elpenor caterpillar
Deilephila elpenor caterpillar by Richerman is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Unlike the Lobster Moth, the Elephant Hawk Moth is a fascinating caterpillar and a truly striking adult as well. You might have seen the caterpillars making their way across your garden – in fact, at a whopping 85mm long they’re very hard to miss. These giant caterpillars are really a sight to behold, and when you see one of them slowly making its way across your deck you’d be forgiven for assuming that a Pokémon had just appeared in your garden as it looks up at you with those big eyes. In fact, those “eyes” are a clever kind of camouflage, and the round “head” is a decoy which conceals a much smaller head which extends outwards as the caterpillar searches for food. When it feels threatened, the caterpillar retracts its real head, expanding the decoy head to make the “eyes” look bigger and scaring away potential predators as the tasty caterpillar appears to transform into a much less tasty snake.

Deilephila elpenor
Deilephila Elpenor 04 by Entomolo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When fully grown, the caterpillar pupates and transforms into a beautiful Elephant Hawk Moth, a striking insect with bright olive and pink wings. Their 60mm wingspan makes them larger than your standard British moth and they tend to eat tubular flowers such as honeysuckle. These moths are common across all of the British Isles and can occupy all kinds of habitats, so unlike a lot of insects on this list they aren’t endangered at all.

Rosemary Beetle & Tansy Beetle

In the UK, we often imagine our beetles to be drab little things with dark brown or black cases in matte shades. In fact, we’ve got a wide array of gorgeous shimmery beetles right under our noses – so many that we’ve had to pick just two to write about.

Rosemary Beetle

Rosemary Beetle
Rosemary Beetle by Robin Sanders is licensed under CC BY 2.0

These striking beetles are a relatively new species to the UK, and were first discovered wild in 1994. Found mostly in the South-East, these little shiny bugs are drawn to aromatic plants and herbs like lavender, sage, and of course rosemary. Quickly earning themselves the label of “pests”, Rosemary beetles are particularly hardy and are often unaffected by pesticides, much to the chagrin of gardeners. While these beetles are only around 7mm long, their shiny, striped cases make them easy to spot nestled among the pastel purple lavender.

Tansy Beetle

Tansy beetle
Tansy Beetle 2 by Geoff Oxford is licensed under CC BY 2.0

These iridescent beetles were once widespread across the UK, but today are one of our most endangered insects. In fact, they’re so rare that they are currently only found on a stretch of the banks of the River Ouse around York. Despite their limited spread, in 2016 the number of recorded Tansy Beetles nearly doubled, showing that there might be hope for these bugs yet. Tansy Beetles are famous for the popular myth that their dazzling cases were so attractive to the Victorians that they were used for jewellery and fashion, attached to collars in place of sequins. While it’s hard to tell just how true this myth is, it’s a known fact that actress Ellen Terry wore a gown adorned with individual beetle cases in the 1880s during a production of Macbeth, so beetles certainly played a part in fashion at the time.

Cockchafers

maybug

Depending on where you live in the UK, these scarab-style bugs are either a regular pest or a complete mystery. They’re known by a number of names across the country: Doodlebugs, Maybugs or Cockchafers (stop giggling at the back, there). Once, these bugs were widespread: in 1911 in an only 18km2 area of forest, over 20 million Cockchafers were collected. These bugs had a devastating effect on harvest as there was no effective way of stopping them. In one bizarre tale from 1320 England, Cockchafers were brought into a courtroom where they were ordered to withdraw their presence within three days or risk being outlawed. The bugs, of course, failed to comply with this sentence so were consequently collected and killed en mass.

After modern farming techniques became popular and the invention of chemical pesticides, Cockchafer numbers finally began to fall, which saved the crops but brought the insects to near-extinction. In the recent move away from chemical pesticides, Cockchafers once again are slowly increasing in numbers.

These bizarre-looking bugs are known for the “leaves” which adorn their antennae; males have seven and females six. They measure about 30mm which doesn’t make them the smallest bug on our list – but does make them the scariest when they decide to fly at you.

Protecting British Bugs

So what can we do to look after our British bugs? Allowing a patch of long grass in your garden is a good start, as well as encouraging the growth of wildflowers or flowers which attract insects such as lavender, foxglove or honeysuckle. For the more dedicated, you can install a bug barn to give insects a place to eat, rest and breed or a bee hive for solitary bees to help support pollinators. For gardens with children, bug hotels are a great way to help support the bugs in your garden while teaching children about all the creepy crawlies they may find. Generally, a bug hotel is built around a base of recycled wooden pallets and can then be filled with all kinds of materials: old wood, hay, bamboo or even sand and old planters. The diverse materials will tempt a wider array of weird and wonderful minibeasts to your garden, perfect for budding entomologists.

Jenny at PrimroseLotti 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.

See all of Lotti’s posts.

Animals, Guest Posts

There are many advantages to encouraging wildlife to thrive in your garden. Not only is it fascinating to witness nature up close (especially if you have children), but encouraging certain types of creatures to take up residence in your garden will act as a natural deterrent for many common pests.

Hedgehog Eating food in the garden
For example:

Birds make a valuable addition to any garden as they will eat most insects, with certain kinds of birds mercifully enjoying snacking on slugs and snails. Pest-eating birds include: robins, magpies, wrens, song thrushes, blackbirds and fieldfares.

While insects are amongst the pests you want to eradicate, there are some insects that are actually useful to have in your garden.

Ladybirds, lacewings, parasitic species of wasps, hoverflies and beetles are among the good kinds of insects who like to eat other pests common to UK gardens.

Other creatures to encourage are hedgehogs, frogs, toads, bats and newts, all of which enjoy eating the pests you hate as part of their daily diet.

So if you want to attract (the right kind of) wildlife to your garden, try incorporating some of these useful features:

Garden pond – Ponds are loved by many creatures, such as frogs, dragonflies and newts, which all need water to breed; birds which use them to drink and bathe, and water boatmen, which live on the bottom of ponds and consume algae and plant debris.

Compost heap – A compost heap provides a place for hedgehogs to hibernate and for slowworms to breed; it will also supply valuable compost that will naturally fertilise your garden’s soil.

Long grass and nettles – Long grassy areas will attract insects, provide shelter for animals, and food for predators.

Thick hedge – A hedge gives nesting areas and cover for birds, while berries provide food during the winter.

Logs – Logs provide an excellent hiding place for all sorts of amphibians, frogs and ground beetles.

Food for Wildlife

Providing food doesn’t have to just mean hanging a bird feeder or throwing out some nuts for the squirrels. In the autumn and winter months, berries and seeds are in plentiful supply, providing food for birds and many other insects.

The garden plant Pyracantha provides berries as well as shelter for birds and support for insects; it can also be trained against a wall.

Pyracantha plant provides tasty berries for garden wildlife
Pyracantha

Summer provides you with many options for food. Plants that are rich in nectar can encourage predators such as wasps and hoverflies. Fennel, Dill and Aster plants provide food for many insects, as well as flowers such as Candytuft, Aubrieta and Wallflower, and shrubs such as Viburnum and Buddleia. You should try and include at least one nectar-rich plant for bumblebees.

Shelter

For a wildlife friendly garden, shelter is vital to protect the creatures from predators, give a place to nest, and somewhere to hibernate. Trees and plants such as Evergreen provide all-year round cover.

Rose, Pyracantha and Mahonia shrubs are an excellent choice for nesting and provide berries and hips to eat. Climbers provide much needed protection, camouflage and nesting spots for birds. Bats and hedgehogs can be lured into the garden with a compost heap or piles of leaves, though if you’ve got the cash to spend you can buy a special box shaped house where hedgehogs can hibernate and bats can sleep.

Image Credits: Sids 1 and Muffet

This is a guest post written by Amy Fowler for Garden Topsoil Direct; specialists in compost delivery across the UK. Find out more on their Facebook page or find out more about Amy on Twitter.

Charlotte, Events, Guest Posts, Insects

Amid the excitement and success of the National Garden SleepOut I was keen to use the event as an opportunity to educate my children regarding its purpose. In addition to being a fabulous excuse to have fun under canvas, the SleepOut raised awareness of important issues in the UK and abroad. Two charities were supported by the event and I spent some time discovering more about these causes and how they related to our own lives. I was keen to see what they could teach us and whether this changes the way we utilise and manage our garden.

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