Discover more from Urban Nature Diary
The bug hotels are open.
How to bring insects back to the city
There’s a place beside the canal a few minutes from where I live, just down a slipway off the main road. It’s a busy thoroughfare, and a broken old fence panel has been a convenient place to shove rubbish over the last couple of years since I’ve lived there.
I’m yet to find out whose responsibility it is - the Canal & River Trust, maybe? - but just the other day I discovered the broken, rubbishy old fence had been replaced by something lovely and urban nature-friendly.
A bug hotel.
You’ll have seen these around, no doubt, and for good reason. Bug hotels are brilliant instant habitats for insects, packed with all kinds of handy little hidey holes for critters to nest in.
We know insects are in trouble. We’ve lost well over half of our flying insects in just the last couple of decades, for a whole host of reasons. But one of those reasons is habitat loss. Insects simply don’t have anywhere suitable to live, because we’ve replaced nature with sterile, chemically-treated concrete and plastic grass.
Enter the bug hotel, stage left.
It’s not the perfect solution to our broken relationship with nature - that requires fundamental, systemic change - but it’s a wonderfully easy way to give local insects some much needed refuge from the busy outside world, especially in spring.
Insects such as solitary bees will carefully inspect every available hole, looking for the perfect nook, before reversing in, laying their eggs and sealing the entrance. The larvae will then hatch in their own time, eat their way out of the nest, and the wide world awaits.
These hotels don’t need to take up a huge amount of space, either. My partner’s mum has three in her garden, fastened to various walls out of the wind. This one is pretty much full to capacity.
Here are two more, hanging inconspicuously on the garage wall.
This one’s my favourite, as it has a little hinged perspex layer so you can see what the nests look like inside.
They don’t have to be intricately engineered, either. What insects are really looking for is somewhere with some shelter, some shade, some warmth, and a place they can lay their eggs out of the way of predators.
This one in a local community garden is just a stack of palettes (with an admittedly fancy roof).
As pretty as these insect hotels are, you can always just opt for a big old stack of logs and leaves. Insects aren’t fussy. They’re just looking for some mess. It’s why our obsession with cleanliness outdoors is doing more harm than good. We might like seeing things look tidy, but sweeping up every leaf and removing every stick is not doing any favours for our small, multi-legged friends.
So if you have any outdoor space, consider opening a bug hotel yourself. No cleaning, check-in or turn-down service required. It doesn’t need to perfect, it just needs to be a place for insects to call home. And if all of us took on the challenge of making our urban areas a bit more bug-friendly, it would go a long way towards helping our ecosystems become stronger and more resilient.