Homes for wildlife

by Kate Bradbury

I've been trying to attract bumblebees to nest in my garden for years. My bumblebee nester has made a great home for spiders, but no bumblebees have ever displayed interest.

Bee hotelA recent Which? Gardening report revealed that many shop-bought wildlife homes are not worth buying. The trial included hedgehog homes, bug boxes and bumblebee nesters, and concluded that only solitary bee hotels proved successful, especially home-made ones.

This was no news to me. I've been trying to attract bumblebees to nest in my garden for years. My bumblebee nester has made a great home for spiders, but no bumblebees have ever shown interest. I even added some mouse litter from the local pet shop (some bumblebees nest in old mouse holes so I was trying to recreate the scent). It's so old and unused it's falling apart and it won't be long before the spiders find alternative accommodation. The hedgehog home my mum put in lies unused, despite being sited under a hedge and dutifully packed with fallen leaves and hay.

Attracting wildlife to your garden can be a bit hit and miss. Bumblebees and butterflies, for example, will happily come to our gardens to forage for food, but often choose to breed elsewhere. Growing nectar-rich plants is a good way to entice them in, but they won't nest in your flower beds. Butterflies lay eggs in long grass, nettles and thistles (depending on the species), while bumblebees prefer undisturbed messy areas such as compost heaps, long grass and mouse holes.

My mum grows a huge range of nectar-rich flowers from March through to November, but her garden's too tidy for bees and butterflies to breed in. Her next door neighbours have a messy garden with some long grass and a pond. Every year a colony of buff-tailed bumblebees nests beneath the neighbours' shed and feeds on my mum's flowers, I'm sure the butterflies do the same. My dad has a nest of common carder bumblebees in his ramshackle allotment compost heap, just a short flight to the raspberries, comfrey and clover he grows.

If you want wildlife nesting in your garden, then build log and leaf piles, start a compost heap, leave a messy area, plant nectar-rich flowers and dig a pond. You could also use an old wooden box filled with stems of sunflower, teasel and bamboo to make a solitary bee hotel.

But that's no guarantee - wildlife can choose the most unpredictable places to live. This summer I visited some buff-tailed bumblebees nesting in a concrete path and once I found a red-tailed bumblebee nest in an old duvet that had been slung out and started to go mouldy. I've also seen hedgehogs and kingfishers foraging in Manchester city centre.

So there are no hard and fast rules. Do you have wildlife nesting in your garden? If so, how much success have you had with shop-bought nesters?

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Gardeners' World Web User 05/11/2010 at 16:57

I have a hedgehog house and nesting box and both are being used,I have a single blue tit that roosts in the nest box over night and the hedgehog has been using his house everynight,he hasnt gone into hibernation yet,but will as soon as it gets a bit nippy.

Gardeners' World Web User 05/11/2010 at 17:13

i to have 1 of thoses bumblebee nests and i havent got any nesting in it however my dad drilled some holes in a log for me and tied a piece of rope to it,i hung it up and within days i had some kind of bee [leafcutter i think] nesting in all the holes.'brill'.i also had bees nesting in a bird box but were sadly attacked by the silkmoth...[so i was told]. i was told by someone in a garden centre that bug boxes arent worth buying either,and to try and do your own,but the odd thing is i to have a hedgehog house and im pleased to say 2nd year running now my hedgehog is back ..i like to think its the same 1 as last year.he/she is very very fat. kate,, i know its no way cold yet but today i found a dead frog in my i remember what you wrote about frogs and the severe weather last year. do you think it maybe the leaves???

Gardeners' World Web User 05/11/2010 at 17:35

Sarah's pondlife - lovely news about the hedgehog. I wish one would move into the one at my mum's. Sorry to hear about your tree bumblebees. Could it have been wax moth? Re your frog, it's very unlikely that it would have died from winterkill so early. Is it easy to get in and out of the pond? Was it harmed - could it have been attacked by a predator? I don't want to alarm you, but if you find more dead/lethargic frogs they could have a bacterial infection called redleg. This Froglife page could help you identify the cause: Fingers crossed it's just a one-off Kate

Gardeners' World Web User 05/11/2010 at 21:46

Kate, you are so right. It is not about what you buy, but how you build a habitat around it. If you grow plants that attract insects the insects will come. We got a bird box with camera from Hayle in Cornwall, but we had to make sure it had some cover. Result. The secret is in what is around it as well as the item itself. Thanks Kate for a great article.

Gardeners' World Web User 06/11/2010 at 08:43

I had a large (probably a Buff tail) bumble bee in my kitchen two days ago. I opened the door and it flew off. This was first thing in the morning as though it had spent the night there.

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