Building an Insect Hotel for Winter Hibernation

An insect hotel improves a garden’s biodiversity and provides refuge for pollinators and pest controllers. 

Insects might not look like particularly significant visitors to your garden, but they’re vital to keeping the ecosystem working. If you want to help them get through the hard times or give them somewhere to breed, provide them with their own place to stay. With the cooler weather fast approaching now is the time to consider providing suitable hibernation habitat for beneficial insects that pollinate trees and vegetable crops, and control pests.  After all,  you will need them when the frantic planting season begins next Spring and what better way to start the season than having your own little colony of insects to help you on the way.

Building an insect hotel for Winter hibernation

Hover flies one of our important pollinators

Our gardens are home to a wide range of insects and the average garden could hold over 2,000 different species of insect. By creating the right habitats we can increase the number of beneficial insects in our gardens. Pollinator habitats can attract domestic honeybees, bumblebees, solitary bees and other wild beneficial insect species. These beneficial species include many different wasps, beetles, lacewings, hoverflies, ladybirds and earwigs and  prey upon the kinds of insects such as lice and mites that damage plants and hence aids pest control. By providing the correct habitat we can contribute to their conservation.

Building an Insect Hotel for Winter Hibernation.

Image copyright: Cheshire Wildlife Trust

There is no standard design for an insect hotel. Just design with your available materials — preferably recycled and natural materials such as old pallets, clay pots, clay pipes, bricks, carpets etc. Insect hotels come in many shapes and sizes but to be effective they need to have many small holes and cavities that insects can crawl or fly into.

Many invertebrates like cool damp conditions, so you should build your insect hotel in semi shade, by a hedge or under a tree. Putting the insect hotel close to other wildlife features such as an overgrown hedge, a shrubbery or a pond will make it easier for small insects to find it. Remember,  not all creatures like the shade especially solitary bees so make sure to place their part of the habitat facing the sun.

Build an Insect Hotel for Winter Hibernation

Herb garden and Insect hotel. Credit: capellagardenstradgard.blogspot.se

From my experience working with my local Tidy Towns group, the Green Schools Committee and talking to other groups the most common way to build an insect hotel is to use old pallets and fill the gaps with a variety of recycled materials to attract a large and varied number of creatures. No need to go more than five pallets high for the insect hotel with the bottom pallet upside down, this should create larger openings at the ends which can be used for a hedgehogs and frogs.  If you only have room for something on a much smaller scale there are several ways you can use recycled materials and turn them into suitable habitats or  there are a range of FSC  certified insect hotels available at most garden centres.

Building an insect hotel for Winter hibernation

Credit: High Contrast/Wikimedia Commons

A simple insect hotel can be made from a collection of hollow stems, twigs and cones packed into a plastic bottle with the end cut off. Several hotels could be placed in different positions around the garden such as on the ground amongst vegetation, next to a wall, fixed to a post placed in a hedge or hanging from a tree.

Another easy design is to take a bundle of bamboo canes or other twigs and tie them together with a piece of string. Hang up the bundle under the branch of a tree or to a railing and the insects will start to move in.

Building an Insect Hotel for Winter Hibernation.

Insect Hotel made from recycled plastic bottle. Credit: www.redtedart.com

Building an insect hotel for Winter Hibernation

An insect hotel made from a simple bundle of canes/twigs tied together

Use old pots, twigs, rolled up cardboard etc to create a simple but interesting looking insect hotel.

Building an insect hotel for Winter hibernation

Credit: http://craftygreenpoet.blogspot.ie

What types of habitiats are needed to conserve our pollinators and other insects.

Dead wood  is an increasingly rare habitat because in recent times we have become excessive with neatness in our gardens, parks and amenity areas. It is essential for the larvae of wood-boring beetles such as the stag beetle because they feast on the decaying wood. Place at the base of your hotel so the logs stay nice and damp and mix with other decaying plant matter to attract centipedes (which devour slugs) and other woodland litter insects such as millipedes and woodlice (which will provide a welcome source of food for birds). This is also a great spot for garden spiders.It also supports many fungi, which help break down the woody material.

Holes for Solitary Bees: There are many different species of solitary bee and all are excellent pollinators. The female bee lays an egg on top of a mass of pollen at the end of a hollow tube, she then seals the entrance with a plug of mud. A long tube can hold several eggs. Hollow stems, bamboo canes or holes drilled in blocks of wood make great habitats for the solitary bees. When it comes to drilling holes in wood, take into consideration the fact that different bee species are drawn to different sizes of holes for shelter and egg-laying and remember to use wood that is preservative free.  As mentioned above you can make a home for solitary bees by collecting hollow stemmed canes and placing them in plastic bottles or lengths of drain pipe. You can also build a wooden shelter similar to a bird box. Solitary bees like warmth, so place your habitat in a sunny spot.

Building an insect hotel for Winter Hibernation

Solitary Bee ~ Photo Credit: wildaboutbritain.co.uk

Straw and hay: These provide many opportunities for invertebrates to burrow in and find safe hibernation sites.

Dry Leaves: Provides homes for a variety of invertebrates as it mimics the natural conditions found in forests.

Loose bark and decaying wood: Beetles, centipedes, spiders and woodlice all lurk beneath decaying wood and bark. Woodlice and millipedes help to break down woody plant material. They are an essential part of the garden recycling system.

Lacewing homes: Straw, dried grass or rolled up cardboard is just the material for a cosy lacewing habitat. While lacewings may be beautifully intricate to look at, they are truly the gardener’s best friend, devouring aphids and other pests such as scale insects, many types of caterpillar and mites. Place the straw or cardboard inside an old open-ended plastic bottle to prevent it turning soggy.

Building an insect hotel for Winter Hibernation

Ladybirds enjoying the French Gorse

Ladybirds: Ladybirds and their larvae are fantastic at keeping aphids at bay. The adults hibernate over Winter and need dry sticks or leaves to keep warm and dry.

Bumblebees: Every Spring queen bumblebees search for a site to build a nest and found a new colony. An upturned flowerpot in a warm sheltered place would be an ideal habitiat to attract the queen bumblebee to your garden.

Bees, butterflies and some other insects sometimes find their way into your house to hibernate well away from the winter chill! This can mean they wake up when you put the heating on, so if you find one hiding in your house, try moving it to a cool, dark place to encourage it to go back to sleep until spring.

If you’re feeling creative and want to  build a five star insect hotel take a look at these for some inspiration.

Remember simple things like leaving a pile of logs or stones in a corner of your garden or just leaving fallen leaves on the ground will provide natural habitats for insects, invertebrates and pollinators which in turn will help to enrich the local ecosystem and ensure your garden is as productive as it can be.

Have you built an insect hotel in your garden? Have you seen an increase of insects, pollinators etc since building it?

If you’d like to know more about why you should consider building a bug hotel Greensideup gives three great reasons why we need to build more bug hotels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Life Lives on the Edge’ – conservation of biodiversity

Last year Wexford County Council introduced a pilot project ‘Life Lives on the Edge’ in four locations throughout the county to increase wildflowers along the National roads. The plan is to encourage an increased biodiversity of flora and fauna along our roadways. This is the first project of its kind in Ireland. The overall aim of the project is to enhance or rediscover the range of visible biodiversity that potentially exists along Wexford roads. The designated areas vary in length and their boundaries will be defined by signposts at either end of the vegetated strips. These signposts will be recognisable by the projects slogan “Life Lives on the Edge”, which aims to highlight the importance of road verges and hedgerows as crucial wildlife corridors for Wexford’s flora and fauna.

'Life Lives on the Edge' - conservation of biodiversity

Photo Credit: Wexford County Council Environment Section

In recent times, excessive concern with neatness on roadsides has led to development of verge management specifications that are not compatible with conservation of biodiversity, weed control or cost-effective vegetation management. This project is concentrated on maintaining the roadside vegetation at the four pilot sites thereby achieving biodiversity goals without neglecting safety or infrastructural maintenance objectives. These areas have been initially cut once in February/March and again in September. This should encourage the establishment of native wildflower abundance on the edge of our roads.

Beautiful wildflowers destroyed with Herbicide use

Beautiful wildflowers destroyed with Herbicide use

It’s not just the severe cutting back of roadside verges and hedgegrows that’s not compatable with the conservation of biodiversity. The use of herbicides to kill weeds and vegetation on road verges is also a huge problem that needs to be addressed. It removes seed producing plants important for many species, and destroys cover and travel corridors for wildlife. Bees, our most important food pollinators are in decline, so too are butterflies, birds and many insects and this is due directly to the over use of herbicides and pesticides.

Life lives on the Edge - Conservation of biodiversity

Another section of roadside biodiversity destroyed by herbicides

Ireland has a diverse and astounding collection of wildflowers some of which are sadly now in decline. Our obsession with tidy landscaped gardens, roadside verges and not allowing wildflowers to grow and our overuse of herbicides and pesticides are a contributing factor for our wildflower decline. This in turn has a knock on affect on our native bees which are now in decline partly due to the loss of habitat and this poses risks for agricultural crops that depend on bees for pollination.

Life lives on the Edge - Conservation of biodiversity

Selection of wildflowers on a roadside in Co. Wexford

Pollinator habitats can attract domestic honeybees, but also wild bees and other wild beneficial insect species. These beneficial species include many different wasps, beetles, predatory mites, and more. These beneficial insects prey upon the kinds of insects that damage crops, so keeping them around can help reduce pesticide applications.

Life lives on the Edge - Conservation of biodiversity

More beautiful wildflowers on a roadside in Co. Wexford

So what can we do to help conserve our biodiversity and increase our pollinator habitat?

  • Extending the ‘Life Lives on the Edge’ project being piloted in Co. Wexford to all counties to help increase our pollinator habitats. One of the areas designated for this pilot scheme is quite near my home and since the pilot began there is a marked increase in wildflowers on that section of roadway.
  • Plant native wildflowers in our gardens or leave a strip of un-mown grass to encourage wildflowers. Most Tidy Towns groups are doing this to help increase our pollinator habitat.
Life lives on the Edge - Conservation of biodiversity

Beautiful native Irish wildflowers

The selection of wildflowers in the photos were taken on a 1km stretch of road during the week. I’m sure if I had looked closer I would have spotted some more but these are the ones that caught my eye as I strolled along the road.

What are you doing to help conserve biodiversity and increase our pollinator habitats?