Building artificial nests and providing a range of materials and holes can successfully support solitary bees is the finding of a research student while on placement at zoos in the south west.

Emily Tyack has studied solitary bees which lay eggs in cavities. There are 250 species of solitary bee, emerging and nesting at slightly different times and with slightly different nesting preferences. Emily provided 'bee hotels' from a range of materials and observed which bees nest in which materials.

Emily said: “The leafcutter bees block the cells around each egg in the hole using perfectly cut circles from rose leaves. It’s mesmerising to watch them come back and forth with bits of leaf half the size of themselves! You can happily watch them from quite close, they aren’t bothered by your presence.”

The leaf cutter bees favoured the bamboo tube, slot boxes and drilled logs, with some species even enlarging the holes to suit; mason bees the bamboo tube, cob brick, reed tube and drilled logs. Overall, the most popular materials were the reed tube, the cob brick and the drilled logs.

“I can conclude from this study that solitary bees will use artificial nest sites provided by humans and that by providing a range of materials and holes you will support the species of solitary bee in your garden.”

Since bees are threatened by habit loss and increased agricultural practices, Emily encourages smallholders to provide artificial nesting sites.

She said: “We can all make a bee hotel for the garden. Include 20cm lengths of bamboo canes, either in a tube or tied into a bundle. Bamboo is good for all species as the holes vary in size naturally. Also include a cob brick (great fun to make, tutorials can be found online, children will love it) and a log drilled with various sized holes. Make sure to place your hotel in a spot that gets lots of sun in the morning and is sheltered from the rain, and you should have happy little bees in your garden in no time!”

Emily, an environmental biology student at the University of Nottingham, was on a year-long placement with the Field Conservation & Research Department of the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, the charity that runs Paignton Zoo, Living Coasts in Torquay and Newquay Zoo in Cornwall.