Insect houses and hotels are popular commercial products, with dozens available online from £9 to £184. The “hotels” contain several compartments with various sized shelter spaces, while the simple ones provide tubes for nesting solitary bees. The Sheffield BUGS project4.
looked at bee nests in some detail, with packs of straws, wood blocks with drilled holes of different sizes and hollow bamboo sections. Only 4mm drilled holes and bamboo sections were occupied in more than half of the gardens used. Nest blocks in the sun were more used than those hung in shade. Generally, bee nests are useful, but you don’t need to buy them, home-drilled blocks or bundles of bamboo sections work really well. We recommend Marc Carlton’s fact sheet
for advice on making bee nests. It is also likely that large bee hotels may create such dense occupancy that parasites and predators will be attracted. Several small “bee bed-and-breakfasts” are probably better than one big hotel. Some of the drawbacks are explained in our leaflet here
The same BUGS project tested three designs of bumblebee box, surface and buried terracotta pots and a recommended design of wooden box. Commercially bumblebee boxes cost between £25 and £60. None of the boxes tested by the Sheffield group ever attracted any bumblebees at all, despite the target species being present in the gardens. Other observations suggest these boxes are only likely to be used if set in parts of the garden where queen bumblebees routinely nest – where they probably aren’t needed anyway. Don’t bother!
It is a myth that wildlife gardeners have to spend money on wildlife homes. However, some, such as bird nest boxes will work if you have patience and install and manage them properly. Insect boxes aren’t worth buying, but it is fun and worthwhile to make your own simple drilled-wood nests, if only so you can observe what happens. In practice, typical gardens will already contain lots of suitable refuges for nesting or hibernating insects.
1. Conservation Evidence on artificial nesting sites. Available here
2. García, D. and Marcos , M. 2020 Enhancing ecosystem services in apple orchards: nest boxes increase pest control by insectivorous birds. J. Appl. Ecol. Abstract here
3. Thomas, A. (2017) Gardening for Wildlife. Bloomsbury Natural History pp 65-69
4. Gaston, K.J., Smith, R.M., Thompson, K. & Warren, P.H. 2005. Urban domestic gardens (II): experimental tests of methods for increasing biodiversity. Biodiversity and Conservation 14, 395-413. Available here