A report in Which? Gardening magazine, covered by the Daily Telegraph, tells us what we already secretly knew; that many “wildlife shelters” bought in shops don’t really work. An honourable exception in the report is the solitary bee box which, like ours on the left, is often better home-made anyway (many commercial boxes have only one or two sizes of hole and typically aren’t deep enough).
The report talks about bumblebee nesters as a typical example. We’ve always said to people that we’d prefer them not to buy them, and that they should rather concentrate on recreating bumblebees’ natural habitats. I could understand their apparent reluctance to do this if bumblebees, like other pollinators, needed unattractive plants. I could understand it if it were difficult or expensive to establish and manage these flowers. They are in fact lovely, they’re relatively cheap to buy and they’re easy to manage. Perhaps folk buy the nesters as part of an accessorization of their garden. Perhaps they buy them as a gift, or as a nod to “wildlife gardening”. From the retailer’s point of view it’s excellent news if they do, as they are easy to ship and carry a much better margin than plants. Good luck to them, but as a symptom of a broader problem it’s depressing. People are going to help and attract bumblebees if they plant the right flowers for them, regardless of how many nesters they have or don’t have. And it’s important they understand this; the Bumblebee Conservation Trust describes gardens as “a stronghold for some bumblebee species”.
How can we persuade folk that they can’t buy a brand new ecosystem-in-a-box at B&Q, take it home and unroll it in the back garden? The key to helping their favourite animals is to mend the broken one they have out there already.