How to build an insect hotel

Also called a bug house, insect house or wildlife stack. The insect hotel is a man made structure that anyone can make that creates “homes” for pollinating insects and other wildlife that may not have nook or cranny to live in the rest of your tidy garden.

We’ve seen insect hotels in all different shapes and sizes. Some are made from stacks of pallets, others small “designer” affairs to be attached to walls more like a piece of art. What they all have in common is that they are filled with a range of materials with varying sized holes for insects, reptiles and solitary bees to crawl into at night or to hibernate in over winter.

I’ve been wanting to create one for absolutely ages but had never gotten round to it. A mixture of not working out where best to place it and not having materials to hand to stuff the crevices. Then a few days ago it was International Day for Biodiversity and I was reminded again of my quest to create a Bug Hotel. This time I WILL do it. Okay so it’s the weekend after and we’ve started. At least though it’s a start.

Where to locate an insect house

Pallet insect house in the gardens at Llanerchaeron House (National Trust).

Pallet insect house in the gardens at Llanerchaeron House (National Trust).

Where you put your insect house will of course depend on the size of the finished hotel and the space you have available. In general terms you want some where that will be warm but not too hot and reasonably sheltered from rain and prevailing winds.

If your completed bug home is going to be large – like a stack of pallets or in our case hollow concrete blocks – you’ll need to find a solid and preferably level bit of ground to put it on as the completed insect hotel will be pretty heavy.

We chose a south facing side of an out building that is reasonably protected from the hottest sun by a beautiful Japanese acer and is close enough to a hedge to the south that it will be protected from the worst of the wind and rain. It’s a pretty sheltered spot close to where we cook, eat and relax on nice days. Which will mean that we will hopefully be able to see our buggy friends come and go from their new houses in a few months time. Who needs TV!

Materials you need to make an insect hotel

It’s best to use things that you already have or can find nearby. We’ve seen other people use man-made materials like plastics in their insect houses along with natural fillers. For us that isn’t an option as we don’t like the way plastics photodegrade (breakdown into smaller pieces when exposed to sunlight) and therefore would be a nightmare of small brittle pieces if we need to move our insect house in the future.

Our Insect Hotel. Made from old hollow concrete blocks and found natural materials.

Made from old hollow concrete blocks and found natural materials.

You’ll need some kind of frame. You can make this out of planks of wood (old shelving for example), pallets or hollow concrete blocks. We had plenty of old hollow concrete blocks around the place so we decide to use them.

You’ll also need a range of materials to arrange in the compartments. We used:

  • broken old bamboo canes,
  • stones and rubble (placed at ground level for toads),
  • dead wood with different sized holes drilled into the end,
  • dried hollow parnsip flower stalks,
  • dried hollow rosebay willow herb stalks,
  • dried hollow cow parsley stalks, and
  • weathered old plywood where they ply was coming apart.
  • As you can see we have a lot of spaces left to fill. We’ll also keep our eyes out for;

  • pine cones
  • other hollow stalks
  • Loose bark
  • broken clay pots
  • corrugated cardboard (and something waterproof to put it in)
  • We’ve also seen straw, hay, sand, wool, leaves and soil put into insect hotels but we don’t have any way to keep those kinds of things in place and out of the reach of nest making birds so we probably won’t include them in this design.

    We topped off the concrete “steps” with butterfly lavender and chives so that the bees are alerted to their possible new homes.

    Spring wild plant survey 2012

    Before we do anything on our land, I want to make sure we know where we are starting from. We will be conducting lots of surveys and feeding our results into any national/international surveys when we can. One such survey is the Wildflower Count organised by Plantlife. It’s actually more of a plant survey rather than just flowers, which is brilliant.

    The Plantlife team were totally cool about me doing the “count” on our land (rather than a randomly assigned square somewhere close to our home) and sent me a surveyor pack. With the square decided it was just a matter of setting a date and brushing up on my plant identification skills. I wanted to involve the local community and new friends in the count, so invited people on our Forest Garden facebook page.

    Temperate woodland in Spring

    We started the survey in the wood near the river

    The where’s the path? website is a great tool for mapping the 1km wildflower walk. Our path took us from the very bottom of the land near the river (in the wood) through grassland to the very top; in all a climb of 100 metres! I decided we should walk it in this direction to give everyone a chance to marvel at the beautiful wildflowers while catching their breath! The diversity of landscape also means that we will be conducting the survey a few times to catch the changing of the seasons.

    April the 15th arrived and we couldn’t have wished for a better day. It was sunny with a only a small threat of rain – which didn’t arrive. The plant hunting crew were raring to go and, armed with our Reader’s Digest Nature lovers Library of native wild flowers and trees and shrubs of Britain books (pretty much everyone brought one along – it seems it is the preferred book!), we set off.

    In total we identified 62 different plants ranging from the very familiar Primrose to a few none of us could identify including the Moschatel and Common twyblade orchid – the fantastic people on i-spot helped identify those (and confirm a few more). Hint: if you are doing to do a survey – take your camera! Most of the plants were in the woodland. I wonder how much that will change over the next surveys … speaking of which, we intend to do the next on on the 10th of June. Follow us on facebook or contact us if you’d like us to remind you closer to the time.

    Thank you to everyone that made the day so lovely, hope to see you next time.

    Here are just a few of the photos from the day …

    Along the track and back again

    Track to the Forest Garden in April

    Track to the Forest Garden in April

    It’s difficult to believe from the photo of the track to the Forest Garden that spring is really on it’s way, but on it’s way it is!

    Look a little closer and wild flowers are blooming, I’ve posted some photos of just a few of them below. How many to you recognise? (how many have I correctly identified?) I’m a little stuck on a few, if you can help me out, please see the ones I am unsure about on I-spot. Thanks!

    It’s all good practice for our Wildflowers Count survey happening here on the 15th of April.