Our big bug house

The Big Bug House

I know what you’re asking yourself – what’s a bug house got to do with bushcraft?

Woodland Ways is justifiably proud of its environmental policy, taking active steps to be both an environmentally aware and environmentally responsible company. In line with its environmental policy, the organisation and staff are conscious of the potential impact that the type of courses we run, and the locations we work in, may have on the environment. We are always aiming to use resources in a sustainable way and take opportunities to improve habitats where appropriate.

Part of the policy states ‘where appropriate promote populations of local and natural biodiversity action plan species’. The UK Bio Diversity Action plan, published in 1994, aims to identify, conserve and protect existing biodiversity and to enhance it wherever possible. The action plan identifies both priority habitats and priority species that are the most threatened and require conservation action. A large proportion of the under threat invertebrate species are pollinators including moths, beetles and bees.

Woodland Ways takes its obligation under the action plan seriously, and is conscious of the decline in pollinators, especially bees.  One third of the UK’s bee population has disappeared in the last decade and 24% of bumble bee species are now threatened with extinction.  This is linked to a loss of their natural habitat, climate change and possibly the use of pesticides.

Many people do not realise that unlike honey bees, most other bee species live in small social groups of around 50 to 60 bees, or live and work alone as a solitary bee.  Of the bees, solitary bees are in fact the prime pollinators for our plant and trees, far outweighing the efforts of the honey bee.  It’s these solitary bees that need help with replacing lost habitats.  One way of doing this is to create a bug house, providing the types of habitat that these pollinators require.

My partner, Fiona, and I have spent the last 12 years making our garden into a wildlife haven, encouraging wildlife in all forms to come and visit us. A dedicated bug habitat has long been part of our plans and we have spent a number of years collecting materials for our own Grand Design. What better way to honour the Woodland Ways environmental policy and add a new wildlife feature to our garden? The extra time available to us during the pandemic has allowed us to get to grips with this project.

Bug houses can be made in a multitude of sizes, with even the smallest providing a small habitat for helpful bugs.

The following pictures show examples of bug houses we have seen on our travels and that we used as inspiration in planning our own.

Bug House inspiration
Bug House inspiration.
Bug House inspiration
Bug House inspiration.
Bug House inspiration
Bug House inspiration.

Benefits of a bug house
Building your own bug house enables you to create habitats for those pollinators that you want to attract to your garden.  Creating a variety of habitats in your bug house can attract a number of beneficial species, helping to make your garden a haven for wildlife.  A bug house can help to attract a number of species, including:

  • Solitary bees (pollinator)
  • Lace wings (aphid control)
  • Lady birds (aphid control)
  • Frogs and toads (slug control)
  • Beetles (troublesome insect control)
  • Hedgehogs (eat slugs and snails)
  • Bumblebees (pollinators)
  • Woodlice (food for other species)
  • Butterflies (a place to hibernate)

Building a bug house provides you with a way of enriching the ecosystem in your garden, restoring a balance in the food chain, ensuring that all species can thrive. A bug house isn’t only about bugs, it gives you the opportunity to add something creative and artistic to your garden – attracting people as well as bugs.

It’s also a great way to teach children about insects and the importance they play in our environment, with plenty of ways they can get involved in the construction of the bug house. There’s no doubt that building a bug house can be a rewarding and therapeutic activity for adults as well!

Ideally, you want to put your bug house in a cool, damp place, where it’s not going to get disturbed.  If you can find a spot near a tree or a hedge, this would be ideal.  Putting it near to shrubs or a pond will make it easy for insects to find and use.  Make sure that one side of your bug house faces the sun, for those insect that like some warmth.

We chose a site for ours under a birch tree in a small area of unused ground between a path and a hedge. Whilst most of the time this spot is shady it allowed one face of the bug house to be oriented generally eastwards to catch the morning sun.

Pick a size of bug house to fit your garden, time and budget.  If time or space is a limiting factor, you can provide beneficial insect habitats by putting a roll of corrugated card in a cut-off plastic bottle for lacewings, or providing bundles of hollow stems for solitary bees, or simply leaving a pile of rotting wood and leaves for beetles and amphibians.

Once you have built it, the insects will come – it might take a few months to become a hive of activity, but once word gets round, you’ll be amazed at the insects you’ll attract into your garden.

In deciding what style of bug house we wanted, we considered a number of options. Did we want something very rustic and natural in style that wouldn’t look out of place in a forest? Or something prim and proper with a machined wood framework, perhaps painted? Or perhaps something with a recycled theme to it? We went back and forth between rustic and recycled themes but both agreed we wanted something that made a statement! As we already had a ‘natural’ stumpery elsewhere in the garden we decided to focus on showcasing something made from mainly recycled materials with a minimum of financial cost.

To meet this goal we decided to create a bug house out of old wooden pallets, with a living roof. Once we had made this decision, we did a little research on the internet and found a really useful site palletideas.com that showed a range of ideas for bughouses.

One of the ideas on palletideas,com we used for inspiration
One of the ideas on palletideas.com we used for inspiration.

To create the structure, we used:

  • Pallets cut into a uniform size; we used 1m square. All of them were obtained from sources that were disposing of them and only cost the effort of collecting. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!
  • Left over OSB panel for the roof
  • Roof felt left over from reroofing the shed
  • Wood for the rafters, border and the baffles, some reclaimed from broken down pallets some scrap from other projects.
  • Screws and nails to lock it together. Some of these were reclaimed from pallets some were new but not bought specifically for this project.
  • Bricks and cement for the foundations. I bought these from a local DIY store for less than £20
  • Broken floor tiles, bricks and stone salvaged from other building projects
  • Large hole chicken wire (for the green roof) reclaimed from an old pet enclosure
  • Compost made on site
  • Plants/seeds for the green roof purchased with a focus on those that attract pollinators

For the bug homes, we used:

  • Recycled plastic bottles
  • Moss (collected from the lawn!)
  • Straw found in a road side ditch the year before
  • Pine cones collected on walks
  • Punky wood from a collection of dead wood we have gathered in the garden
  • Toilet roll tubes
  • Bricks (the yellow ones were reclaimed during a building project)
  • Garden canes. These were past their useful life and were cut to lengths roughly the same as the width of the pallet wood
  • Cardboard from boxes that were being thrown away
  • Broken roof tile
  • Twigs
  • Old bird feeders that we hadn’t got around to throwing out (ok I am a hoarder)

In Part 2, we will look at how we approached the construction of the bug house with an emphasis on longevity and safety.

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