Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Ugly House Insect Hotel

Tŷ Hyll (the Ugly House) is a showcase for honeybees doing pioneering conservation work to create a plentiful supply of local queens; but what about the other 2,000 different species of insect that might be living in the grounds? Many insects are declining in numbers, such as bumblebees and solitary bees, and could do with a helping hand. To that end we have built an insect hotel designed and supervised by Rosie Barratt from the North Wales Wildlife Trust and assisted by two students from Bangor.

Our hotel is a luxurious, five-storey affair set into the hillside with a south facing aspect overlooking the Ugly House and the Afon Llugwy.  No expense was spared in obtaining the materials with five discarded pallets, begged from a local builders merchant, creating the main structure. You can tell it’s a Welsh hotel as it has a slate roof with what looks like a bit of pond liner beneath to keep the bug beds (not bed bugs) nice and dry.

If you want to build your own I can strongly recommend enlisting Rosie’s assistance. But in case she is not available here below are some instructions borrowed from a Wildlife Trust website.

Where to site your insect hotel?

Many invertebrates like cool damp conditions, so you can site your habitat in semi shade, by a hedge or under a tree. Putting the habitat close to other wildlife features, such as an overgrown hedge, a shrubbery or a pond will make it easier for small creatures to find it. Not all creatures like to be in the shade: solitary bees like a warm sunny spot, so put tubes for bees on the sunniest side of the habitat, or put them elsewhere in the garden. Choose a level, even surface: the hotel may end up fairly heavy, so will need a firm base. 
Drilling bug beds -
cunningly camouflaged so as not to alarm the bees

The basic structure

Old pallets, preferably the same size,  are ideal for the basic structure; the more you can use recycled or reclaimed materials the better. The hotel does not need to be more than 5 pallets high. If you place the bottom pallet upside down, this should create larger openings at the ends, which can be used for a hedgehog house. Although the structure should be stable, you might want to secure each pallet to the one below.

Filling the gaps or furnishing the bedrooms

There are many different ways to fill the gaps in the structure, here are some suggestions:

Dead wood - this is an increasingly rare habitat as we tidy our gardens, parks and amenity
woodlands. It is essential for the larvae of wood-boring beetles, such as the stag beetle. It also supports many fungi, which help break down the woody material. Crevices under the bark hold centipedes and woodlice.

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 such cells. Hollow stems, such as old bamboo canes, or holes drilled into blocks of wood, make good nest sites for solitary bees. Holes of different diameters mean many different species can be catered for. You can make a home for solitary bees by collecting old canes or pieces of hollow plant stems, then placing in a length of plastic drain-pipe or a section from a plastic drinks bottle. You can also build a wooden shelter, similar to a bird box. Solitary bees like warmth, so place your habitat in a sunny spot. Bees use differing ways to seal their egg chambers: look out for canes blocked with dried mud or bits of leaf. 

Frog hole - stones and tiles provide the cool damp conditions that frogs and other amphibians need. Amphibians also need a frost free place to spend the winter; this could be in the centre of the hotel.

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

Dry leaves provide homes for a variety of invertebrates; this mimics the litter on the forest floor.

Loose bark - beetles, centipedes, spiders and woodlice all lurk beneath the decaying wood and bark. Woodlice and millipedes help to break down woody plant material and are essential parts of the garden recycling system.

Crevices - many garden invertebrates need a safe place to hibernate in through the winter. Our insect hotel has many different types of crannies and crevices that different species of invertebrate can hide in over winter.

Lacewing homes - lacewings and their larvae consume large numbers of aphids, as well as other garden pests. You can make a home for lacewings by rolling up a piece of corrugated cardboard and putting it in a waterproof cylinder, such as an old lemonade bottle.

Ladybirds and their larvae are champion aphid munchers! The adults hibernate over winter and they need dry sticks or leaves to hide in.

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 might be used.

Nectar producing plants - why not plant some nectar-rich flowers in the hotel’s garden. These provide essential food for butterflies, bees and many other flying insects.

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