Keep your tinies enthralled and your local wildlife happy by constructing a bug hotel in your garden.

From bitter experience, we’ve learned that the key to swerving boredom at one extreme and meltdowns at the other is to plan activities. Sure, you could bundle the kids into the car or onto a train and deposit them at the nearest soft play/National Trusts/ local farm/ kids’ club/Granny’s house – and in all likelihood, one or all of these will happen at some point in the week.

But, pilfering shamelessly from parent folk who have been wiser than us in the past, we say the smart way to entertain the kids is by giving them a truly sustaining project at home. And what better way than to build a bug hotel? The garden gurus at said, 'Building a bug hotel is a great activity for the entire family and you probably won’t need to buy anything, as it will all be lying around the garden or in wooded areas.'

It’s great for the environment (you’ll be providing shelter for creatures from hedgehogs to toads to woodlice to solitary bees and encouraging biodiversity in your garden) and it definitely beats remortgaging the house to take the family to Alton Towers for a day. Plus, you may well actually have a number of the materials you’ll need knocking around anyway, or if not, you can find many of them on a nature walk.

Don’t have a garden? A lot of local parks have their own bug hotels you can check out. Failing that, rope in a friend with outdoor space. Chances are, their parents will be delighted you gave them the idea.

Making a bug hotel doesn’t necessarily require all of these things, but you can choose from a bug heaven menu that includes: old wooden pallets, straw, moss, dry leaves, old terracotta pots, bricks, old roofing tiles, pine cones, roofing felt, logs, hollow bamboo canes, hollow stems of plants, planks of wood, sand or soil.

In short, you can use what you like, as long as you go for natural materials. So do get creative.

Choose your size and location:

First decide what scale you want your hotel to be on. Huge megalith? Townhouse-style mansion? Exclusive boutique? It all depends on the space you have and where you put your creatures’ new residence. If you have a dark, damp space, you’ll attract different guests (such as spiders and woodlice) than in a dryer, lighter spot (where you might get solitary bees, for example).

Got a veg patch? Don’t place it too close by (too tempting for hungry critters). Planning to plant wildflowers? Why not place your bug hotel nearby, so that they have as much incentive to check into your new establishment as possible.

But first things first: you need to make the structure, which should be no more than a metre high. Find some level, solid ground, and make your framework. Lay down your bricks, with spaces between them and then layer your wood pallets on top. They are a perfect material for this exercise, since they come with natural holes. You want to leave plenty of room to breathe. Want to attract larger animals like hedgehogs? Simply leave larger gaps (you can also place a hedgehog box at the hotel’s base if you are especially keen to offer shelter to our shy, spiky friends.

Now furnish it:

Just as if you were the proprietor of a hotel for human folk, the idea here is to make your guests as cosy and comfy as possible. That means creating lovely places of refuge for a variety of creatures.

To delight beetles, centipedes, spiders and woodlice, fill your hotel with dead wood and bark. Meanwhile, solitary bees will rejoice in tubes to duck into (think bamboo). Fancy inviting frogs and toads in? They are big fans of stones and tiles as places to winter in (they’ll also keep your pesky slug population under control). Ladybirds, meanwhile, go mad for a dry leaf. Speaking of which, do scatter the floor with dry leaves to emulate the conditions of a natural forest.

Put a lid on it:

You’ll want to keep you guests warm and dry, so you need to add a roof. This can be in the form or old roof tiles or roofing felt. But this step is vital, since you don’t want your efforts – and their home – to become a sodden mess.

Want to make a living roof? Add some gritty soil on top and see if wild flower seeds arrive on the breeze.

If you build it, they will come:

We must caveat this by saying, ‘but possibly not straight away.’ Watching as native bugs do discover it is a pure joy. But do remember that some creatures will take refuge more at night than in the day, so don’t be disheartened.

And finally:

Do name your hotel and give it a sign. And take pictures of your kids with their creation. If you use social media, why not post it to encourage others to do the same? We love the RSPB’s instructions video, which you can watch here:

For more outdoor activities for your kids all year round, check in with The Woodland Trust’s excellent Nature Detectives’ Blog, for ideas ranging from how to attract butterflies and what you should know about slow worms.

Where to shop:

You will make your bug hotel all the more appealing if you encourage insects to the general area with diverse bee- and bug-friendly flowers. Habitaid offers a useful selection packed with information about plants and flowers that are especially attractive to bees.

Green and Blue
The lovely Cornwall-based Green and Blue is a great resource for encouraging nature into your garden. Says its co-founder Gavin Christman, ‘Ultimately we just want to make a difference, make a positive impact for our wildlife.’ You can buy bird houses, bat roosts and bee houses here (all great) but we especially love its bees blocks, which look beautiful and stylish and provide a place for solitary bees to lay their eggs.

The Royal Horticultural Society
Naturally, the RHS has a dizzying array of ready-to-buy homes for a biodiverse range of birds and insects. The Butterfly feeder and Biome is a great buy, as is the Urban Bee Box and the Dewdrop Butterfly and Insect Hotel.

Woodside’s inexpensive Wooden Insect and Bee House does all the work as detailed above for you. If you don’t have the time or inclination to build a hotel yourself but still would like the wildlife to flock, this a great option.


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By Nancy Alsop
February 2020

Nancy Alsop


Nancy is a magpie for the best in design and culture.