This project is open for 2023
Most of the UK’s native bees are solitary bees, which do not
form communal nests (as eusocial species like bumblebees
and honeybees do) . Instead, female solitary bees make and
provision their own individul nests, usually in tunnels or tubes.
Solitary bees are fantastic pollinators, and the range of body
sizes and shapes found in different species make them very
important for pollinating flowers that don't get as much
attention from other bees.
The importance of these bees in our garden ecosystems is
becoming increasingly well-known. Providing nesting habitat
for such bees is a popular wildlife gardening activity, with typical ‘bee hotels’ tending to focus on cavity nesting bees, which nest above / off the ground (we are also looking into this type of hotel). However, many species of solitary bees do not nest in cavities / plant stems, and instead make their homes in tunnels in the soil. These ground nesting bees (known as ‘mining bees’) often go overlooked in the bee hotel business.
Let's see if we can change that. The Buzz Club’s 'Marvellous Miners' project aims to see if we can make ‘bee hotels’ suitable for ground nesting bees. We have a few idea to try out, and as this is a pilot project, we are just as interested in what does not work as we are in what does!
Name: Marvellous Miners
Year(s): 2023 -
Focus? Mining bees
Status? In development /
Project lead contact:
The first step of this project is to find out if we can attract ground-mining bees to nest in structures or spaces that we have deliberately provided. Mining bees often need bare soil, or ground with limited vegetation covering it, so they have space to dig in.
Space for mining bees on wildlife sites is often provided by clearing quite large areas of ground (e.g. several square metres), or building banks of bare soil. This is not very practical for a garden sized space, so we are going to look at three small-scale versions:
1) A ‘Container’ of sandy soil (the most ‘bee hotel’ style option).
2) A ‘Sandy Square’ – a hole dug out of the ground, and filled back with sand / soil mix.
3) A ‘Cleared Space’ of bare soil (the control).
This project will run from April to September. It can be joined at any time, but since many solitary bees start flying in early spring, the sooner the better.
For this project you will need to make a ‘Cleared Space’ for a control, and then at least one test hotel - a ‘Container’ or a ‘Sandy Square’.
You can do both test hotel types if you like, but we recognise this might be a lot of work!
Once the hotels are set up, you will need to keep them clear of vegetation. Recording is a case of checking if there are any signs of mining bees using the spaces.
1) 20-30cm deep pot with drainage holes.
2) Sand (any sand)
3 )Soil (from your garden)
4) Rocks / gravel
5) Spade / trowel
6) Bricks / something to tilt the hotel.
Get to know the hotels
1) Cleared Space (control)
The simplest method - just clear off any vegetation from a sunny spot, and see if anything moves in.
Surrounding bricks here are for marking the space.
2) Container (sand and soil mix)
Bucket of sandy soil in a sunny space. Bricks here are tilting it, so any rain doesn't fill up any tunnels.
3) Sandy Square (sand and soil mix)
Dug out square, refilled with sand:soil mix. In a sunny place.
Keep clear of vegetation.
Frequently Asked Questions - Marvellous Miners
1. Can I do more than one type of hotel?
Yes! We are only requiring that participants do one test hotel and one control, but you can do as many as you like.
2. I wasn't able to start in April / only just found this project / missed a week.
Is this a probem?
Nope! While mining bees are some of the earliest bees to emerge in the spring, the exact timing can vary a lot with location (particularly how far north / south you are).
3. If I don't get any bees using the hotel, have I failed?
Not at all! Because this is a pilot project, we are interested in any results. The more the better - even if we have lots of results indicating that bees don't use these designs, that is really useful information.
4. What should I do if the 'starter holes' have closed up / fallen in?
This has now come up a few times, and while we initially advised that folks put the holes back in, we have since decided it is not worth trying to do so. Our thinking is:
If mining bees are choosing to nest in areas where there are already bees, they will be more likely to use scent / pheromone cues to identify the presence of the sort of neighbours they would like, rather than just a hole.
Mining bees don't tend to re-use nests, and most do not share tunnels, so they may not find the presence of pre-existing holes attractive. Possibly kleptoparasites / 'cuckoos' (such as Nomad bees) that lay their eggs in others' nests might search for existing tunnels, but again since these bees have specific species that they target, an empty hole would not be interesting for long.
If there are bees already there and you have missed seeing them, you might squash them or disrupt the nest with a poking stick.
5. Does the type of sand used make a difference / is there a specific sort that should be used?
We have decided that for this year, probably not. Sand found out in the world will be different in different locations (and we are asking you to use local soil anyway), so at least for this pilot year, we have decided it probably doesn't make enough difference. We are more interested if the design works at all, so any sand will do.