As part of a general effort to help and attract bees, people sometimes consider purchasing nest boxes for bees. Indeed, for wild species, there are a variety of bumblebee nest boxes, as well as solitary bee houses available.
But you don't necessarily have to
spend a fortune. You'll see below how homes for bees can be made or purchased relatively cheaply.
On the other hand, I also think its true that a beautifully made solitary bee house makes a nice gift for a wild-life loving friend or relative, or to encourage children to observe nature.
Below is an image of a mason bee house in my garden. It was purchased for me as a gift.
I have had great success with this bee house, in particular, with mason bees inhabiting it, enabling me to film the activity. You can watch on this page. This exact same log is available from Amazon US and also from Amazon UK. However, some other excellent bee houses are available.
With regard to shop-bought bumblebee nest boxes, however, the rate of success for attracting bumblebees could be disappointing.
This has was a subject of study at by Professor Goulson and team at the University of Sterling - you can read more about this report here: http://planetearth.nerc.ac.uk/news/story.aspx?id=975 (copy and paste the link into a new window).
Anyway, here is a query I received from a visitor to my website, with my response below:
You can indeed purchase specially made boxes, but they may or may not be successful. It could be that you have to wait a year or two before bees move in (if at all).
However, an untreated bird box will suffice just as well for a few species (e.g. Bombus hypnorum, and Bombus lapidarius). You can hang it from a tree as you would for a bird, perhaps put a little mesh wire over the hole to ensure bees can get in, but birds cannot. Put some bedding in the nest box first - perhaps soft dried grass (pesticide free), hamster bedding, moss, that sort of thing. You could place a similar box more at ground level, for other species.
Simple bird boxes such as these above, could be home to a colony of bumblebees.
If you decide to purchase a specially designed box for bumblebees, I recommend that if there are instructions to catch and trap queens, that such instructions are ignored. I disagree with such advice. I think it is better to let bees themselves decide whether or not a site is suitable.
You may also see boxes of bumblebees for sale. Again, I recommend against this, and have been raising awareness of this issue for a couple of years now.
Originally, there was research from the USA about potential problems, but there is now more recent UK research too. Basically, even when the species are native, commercially reared bumblebees could spread diseases to wild bees.
However, I certainly recommend you site a solitary bee house. These can be made from hollow canes very easily, cut to length, or you can purchase them. Below is a house for mason bees that is in my garden - I also have lengths of hollow cane too (bundled together), and these also attract bees - see here.
This is one of my solitary bee houses - I also have lengths of hollow cane bundled together, and these are also occupied by bees.
One of the key things you can do, of course, is ensure there are lots of plants in your garden for bees! Lots of resources here if you need them.
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