Today is the last day of National Insect Week in the UK. Now that England are out of the World Cup we might all be spending a bit more time in our gardens! So I thought I’d finish the week by letting you know how you can get involved in helping conserve our creepy crawlies in your own garden over the rest of the summer and beyond.
Firstly, for some inspiration take a look at the ‘luxury insect hotels’ designed in the architectural competition ‘Beyond the Hive’. Designed to attract stag beetles, solitary bees, butterflies, spiders, lacewings, and ladybirds, five unique insect hotels (including the one pictured above) ‘opened’ last weekend around London. The insect hotels were constructed by five teams shortlisted to win the competition launched by British Land and The City of London Corporation to celebrate 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity. Vote online for your favourite and find out where they are located at www.britishland.com/beyondthehive. Voting closes 29 June.
- Short lengths of drinking straws, hollow canes or plant stems, tied in bundles are excellent nesting sites for beneficial lacewings and ladybirds. Dead wood is good for beetles.
- Make small piles from broken crocks and stones to provide shelter for ground beetles and other nocturnal insects.
- Try to have some form of hedgerow made from native plants such as hawthorn or hazel under-planted with native woodland plants.
- Avoid planting hybrid cultivars, especially those with double flowers, which are often sterile, and therefore useless to nectar and pollen feeders.
- Resist the urge to tidy! If you allow some fallen leaves and cuttings to remain in a section of the garden, you will provide useful shelter. Leave tidying of borders and shrubs until late winter or early spring to provide shelter for insects through winter.
- Compost your rubbish rather than dispose of it. This will cut down on your garden waste, provide you with free compost and create a habitat for a variety of insects.
- Avoid using chemicals if another control method will do – you may also be killing the natural predators that feed on the pests. Encourage pest controllers such as hedgehogs, frogs and spiders into your garden by providing suitable habitats.
- Allow a small section of your lawn to grow into a meadow of native wild plants. Different grass species interspersed with wild flowers such as ox-eye daisies can look beautiful and will attract more insects into the garden. Long grass provides over-wintering habitat for caterpillars.
- Nettles will support a number of butterfly and moth species, but should be in full sun to attract butterflies. Your nettle patch will also provide a reservoir for natural enemies of pests in the rest of your garden, for example ladybirds and hoverflies which eat herbivorous pests.
- Traditional cottage garden plants such as lavender, Buddleia, wallflowers and cornflower are ideal for nectar and pollen eating insects such as bees and butterflies.
- Dig a pond to attract dragonflies and damselflies as well as other aquatic insects. They will also bring in frogs. Try and plant around the pond to provide perching points and have floating vegetation at the sides for insects to lay eggs.
Once you start looking for insects in your garden you’ll probably be surprised at the variety of species and you may decide to try to identify some of them. For a quick guide to identifying some of the most common garden insects go the Natural History Museum’s ‘Identify your bug’ guide. For the more enthusiastic entomologist take a look at the London Wildlife Trust’s suggestions for identification books. If you’re still stuck, take your insect along to the newly opened Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity at the Natural History Museum where a museum expert will help identify it.
If you’re a keen photographer why not take a photo of some insects in your garden and enter the National Insect Week photo competition – it’s open until 31 October.