What’s all the buzz about bee hotels?

With habitat loss being the biggest threat to pollinators in Ireland, many people are looking to bee hotels as a simple way of turning the tide. 

Bee hotels are artificial nesting structures that are designed to attract pollinators by giving them small cavities for egg-laying. In recent years, they’ve cropped up in garden centres and nature reserves across Ireland.  

And with the second phase of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan kicking off this year, proponents of the structure hope they’ll continue to crop up in gardens all over the country.

Horticulturalist Sean Keane, who wrote his master’s thesis on how to build an ideal and scientifically sound bee hotel, says they bring “welcome wildlife”.

“The aspect of having a bee hotel that I love is the cavity nesting solitary bees. They’re real characters. You have mason bees, leaf cutters, and wool carder bees, and each use different materials to build their nests,” he told The Green News.

Sean has built around 50 bee hotels over the past year and has become well acquainted with the care needs of models once built.

Any reeds and tubing that is used by the bees for nesting must be replaced each year for hygiene reasons, otherwise there can be harmful consequences for the hotel inhabitants.

“Bee hotels house insects in higher concentrations than would be found in nature, which makes bee hotels inviting to parasites and predators. And like ourselves with Covid-19, being so close together can cause rapid spread of disease,” he said.

To counter this risk of parasites spreading in hotels, he recommends having several small bee hotels as opposed to a one large one.

The benefits of bee hotels

When they are built and placed according to known scientific parameters, bee hotels can be highly effective.

“It’s important to follow All-Ireland Pollinator Plan guidelines and the advice of scientists. I’m a horticulturalist, but I take my lead from the National Biodiversity Data Centre, and not any commercial entities selling bee hotels,” he explained.

Scientists such as UCD Assistant Professor, Dr Simon Hodge, who has conducted research into the habitat preferences of wild pollinators in Irish agricultural landscapes, says that bee hotels can both be educational and beneficial.

He adds that alongside the satisfaction of having an occupied bee hotel in your garden, they also provide key pollination services. 

“Much research overseas has shown that solitary bees are important pollinators of both flowers and soft fruit crops such as blueberries and strawberries. They also don’t fly too far from the nest they are creating, so if you have nest-building bees it is likely they are visiting flowers close by,” he said.

The popularity of bee hotels is due in part to the continually declining populations of pollinators in Ireland.

In order to thrive, pollinators need a diverse, year-round range of food sources from flowers and undisturbed areas in which to nest and lay eggs. However, ongoing habitat loss and degradation are threatening these vital conditions, according to Professor Jane Stout.

Insecticides can impact pollinator behaviour and physiology and they can even kill them, according to Prof Stout.

“But herbicides and fungicides can also impact them by affecting their food sources and having effects on their biology,” she added.

As 90 per cent of plant flowering species worldwide are animal-pollinated, bees play a key role in maintaining healthy ecosystems.

As a way of sustaining their essential role, scientists have recommended that natural habitats across public and private land are restored.

The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, of which Professor Stout is a co-founder, aims to see such restoration. It outlines actions to be taken across all sectors, “to provide food, shelter and safety for pollinators across Ireland.”

Now in its second instalment, the five-year plan beginning this year has 186 actions spread across six objectives, ranging from making Irish farmlands more pollinator friendly, to outlining how to conserve rare pollinator species.

The plan also hopes to encourage more people to pledge their garden for pollinators, and bee hotels are set to continue to be a centrepiece in the effort.

“The model I make is a proven one, I’m simply just a builder and a well-informed chap. There’s no harm in talking to others with residents in their bee hotels,” Mr. Keane said.

Thomas Hamilton, June 2021
https://greennews.ie/bee-hotels-feature/