ECOLOGY is a relatively modern science, writes Dick Warner
The meaning we attach to the word today is less than a century old and that meaning is still evolving. One result of this has been the appearance in supermarkets and garden centres of “insect hotels”.
The idea is that you buy one, put it in your garden and it provides a habitat for beneficial insects where they can shelter, breed or hibernate. The insects then benefit the ecology of the garden — predatory and parasitic ones control pests and the ones that eat nectar help pollinate plants. It’s a good idea. There is plenty of scientific evidence demonstrating that the numbers of beneficial insects, particularly pollinating ones, are declining all around the world, including Ireland. It’s also quite clear that the reason for this is that we’ve poisoned them with pesticides and destroyed much of their natural habitat.
However, I haven’t actually bought an insect hotel myself. It seems to me that it’s more satisfying, and cheaper, to make your own using natural or recycled materials. A few minutes on the internet will come up with a mass of instructions, suggestions and images but it also helps to have some knowledge of the habits and preferences of the insects you are hoping to cater for.
Most commercial insect hotels are aimed at solitary bees and wasps. They like tunnels to shelter, breed and hibernate in but there are hundreds of different species in Ireland alone, some of which are quite small and don’t look at all like bees or wasps, and they have different preferences when it comes to tunnels. If you are going to drill a block of wood to provide them with bedrooms you need 2mm, 4mm, 6mm and 8 mm holes which are as deep as possible (without going all the way through) and as smooth as possible, particularly at the entrance.
Don’t use timber that has been treated with a chemical preservative or fresh softwood that is likely to exude resin. The holes should slope slightly upwards from the entrance to they stay dry and the hotel should be placed in a sheltered but sunny site, preferably close to nectar producing plants. You may need a screen of netting to keep out birds.
An easier option is to collect readymade tubes of organic material such as reed stems, sections of bamboo, young elder shoots, and lengths of straw and bind them together in a bundle or pack them into a piece of pipe.
You may get ambitious and decide to cater for a greater range of guests. The solitary bees and wasps like their accommodation to be warm, dry and well ventilated. Other creatures prefer the damp and to be close to the ground. You can add a basement to your hotel to cater for them and you can add in hibernation sites for frogs and hedgehogs — though they may end up dining on the other guests.
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