Although it’s often said that dogs are man’s best friend, I suspect if we really thought about who our allies are in the animal world, creatures with six legs would definitely beat those with four. It’s becoming increasingly well-known that insects are not only important and useful for gardeners (read this article), but many of them are in trouble.
An estimated one third of our food depends on pollinating insects, and it’s these same pollinators which are being wiped out at an alarming rate. Almost a third of bees and wasps are under threat, more than 70% of butterflies have experienced significant population decline and several species have already gone extinct in the UK. As gardeners it can be easy to see first-hand the problems lack of pollinators can cause. Un-pollinated flowers of beans and tomatoes simply drop off, reducing yields, and incomplete pollination leads to stunted fruits in many crops such as raspberries and apples – if you’ve ever wondered why some fruit are lopsided, that’s why!
So how can we help the bees, bugs and butterflies which are so useful (and so beautiful)? One of the key things you can do is to help them out with a place to live. Traditionally the advice has been to leave a corner of the garden to grow wild – insects love the intricate habitats created by a bit of mess, with its sheltered corners, undisturbed patches and plenty of building materials for nests. Undoubtedly, this is the ideal. However, how many of us these days have a garden big enough to leave a bit to go wild? I know I certainly don’t.
Enter the ‘Bug Hotel’ – all those sheltered nooks and corners compressed into a funky-looking box. They’ve become the must-have garden accessory – I saw lots at the big flower shows this year – including a rather artistic bug hotel wall made from old oil drums in ‘A Space to Connect and Grow’ at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, and an amazing, almost church-like bug hotel from the RSPB at the BBC Gardeners’ World Live show in Birmingham. Bug hotels make great Christmas presents for garden lovers. Or, if you’re looking for activities for the kids in the school holidays (not far off now…), then why not make your own? Whether bought or home-made, a bug hotel will help make your garden into a haven for not just people, but wildlife too. How I dream of summer days listening to the drone of bees and watching the butterflies flutter by!