Bee hotels are amazing, simple ways to help protect biodiversity. Here’s an expert tutorial on how to make your own, safely.
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Bees are a common part of any British summer but not many of us realise just how crucial they are to our ecosystems and food production. Pollinating bees are worth £690 million per year to the British economy and more than three quarters of the world’s crops are dependent on them.
However climate change and habitat loss is impacting the UK bee population. For example, in East Anglia, 17 species have become regionally extinct. It’s therefore important that we all do our part to support local biodiversity in order to help protect the bees.
One great way of doing this is by making a bee hotel. A bee hotel allows the insects to healthily procreate, so it’s less of a short-stay bed and breakfast and more like a year-long lease for the bees, or at least the newborns. “I like to think of bee hotels as being like Love Island for bees,” says Rosalind Mist, a beekeeper and director of education and youth engagement at the WWF.
“Bees don’t sleep in a bee hotel but they lay their eggs alongside some pollen so the young larvae can grow,” Rosalind continues to explain. “They need somewhere that’s safe and secure that won’t get mouldy or feel the wind.”
Depending on their species, bees will usually find places to lay their eggs in the wild, in cavities in the ground or ‘messier’ parts of the outdoors. The reason that bee hotels can be helpful is that these areas are less common in perfectly manicured gardens, so they help to provide the bees with the space that they need. “It also provides a space where you can watch them, which is really nice,” Rosalind adds.
Making a bee hotel is fairly simple and it’s a fun way to get crafty if you have some spare time at the weekend. Here, Rosalind shares her tutorial and expert tips on how to safely make a bee hotel and her tips for maintaining it to make the best environment possible for the bees.
What you will need to make a bee hotel
- Three clean tin cans
- Bamboo canes
- Non-toxic PVA glue
- Wood glue
- Paint (optional)
- Two thin pieces of wood for the roof
- A thin square piece of wood for the back of the hotel
How to make a bee hotel
- Place the piece of wood you have chosen for the back of your bee hotel on the floor.
- Put wood glue on the bottom of the cans and stick them to the wood in a pyramid shape (two below, one on top). Leave them to dry for an hour.
- Take the pieces of wood for your roof and place them in a triangle shape covering the cans. Glue the wood into place and leave them to dry for an hour.
- Cut the bamboo canes into short sections the depth of the tin cans.
- Place a little PVA glue on the end of each cane and push it into the can. Fill up the can with the canes.
- Now your bee hotel is nearly ready. Paint it in bright colours and patterns (with non-toxic paint) and leave it in a quiet, sunny, place outside for the bees to start using.
Rosalind’s expert tips for making and maintaining a bee hotel
Keep your hotel(s) small
“A number of small hotels is better than one big one if your garden attracts a lot of bees,” Rosalind says. She explains that, similarly with humans, having lots of bees crammed together can be dangerous, as it encourages the spread of diseases. “My bee hotel tends to be about half full, with around 20-30 of the bamboo canes full,” she adds, explaining that a half full bee hotel is a very successful one.
Unlike Love Island, bees don’t have to put all of their eggs into one basket (or in this case, tube). Different bees can fill the same tube with their eggs so rather than counting how many bees are using the hotel, to track your progress, it’s better to count how many bees you produce at the end.
Be careful of toxic ingredients
Most PVA based glues are okay to use in your bee hotel, according to Rosalind. However, if you’re going to paint your hotel, this is where you need to be careful as many paints have insecticide in them, which can be fatal to bees. “Most standard wood glues should be fine but it’s something to look out for,” Rosalind says.
Think about the food supply for bees
“Putting a bee hotel in a concrete environment is not a good idea,” Rosalind says, explaining that a green space is ideal, so the bees can find food to feed themselves and their offspring. Young bees survive on pollen, whereas most species’ of older bees survive on honey, which they will be able to find in most green spaces like gardens.
Get to know the life cycle of a bee
“Different bees emerge and mate at different times of the year,” Rosalind says. You can figure out which bees your hotel has attracted by looking at their appearance and doing some research online to figure out what the species is based on their colours and size. You can also use the WWF’s Seek app to help you identify species.
“The best time to create a bee hotel is in the late spring or the early summer, but you can make yours and put it out at any time of the year – some bees are around later into the autumn,” Rosalind says. Over winter, there aren’t any bees around but eggs and young larvae will stay in their eggs over winter and emerge in the spring, so a bee hotel is useful all year round.
Clear out your bee hotel annually
Bee hotels are fairly low-maintenance, but each year you should clear out the bamboo tubes after the new baby bees have emerged. “You wouldn’t want to put your baby in an overused cot is the best way to put it,” Rosalind says, explaining that not cleaning out your tubes can be a potential source of disease. “You’ll know when the baby bees have emerged because they will fill the tubes up with a bit of leaf or a bit of mud.”
Every couple of years, you should try and replace your tubes completely. This is because mould, funguses and parasitic wasps and flies can fill up the tubes after a while, which is another potential source of disease.
You can find more expert tips and tutorials on The Curiosity Academy’s Instagram page.
Rosalind Mist, beekeeper and Director of Education and Youth Engagement at the WWF
A former rocket scientist and member of the British Beekeeping Association, Rosalind also has over 20 years of experience in public engagement in science and conservation. She is passionate about providing ways for people’s voices to make the case for change, guided by evidence about what change is needed. Rosalind has developed a number of campaigns including inspiring more girls to study science and computing, celebrating Girl Guiding’s centenary, and is currently leading WWF-UK’s education, youth engagement, and campaigns teams as they seek to drive up the ambition of the UK to tackle climate change, and put nature on the path to recovery.
Images: Getty, WWF