Building for bees

Thursday 6th July 2023

…blog by Scarlett Weston, Buglife Get London Buzzing Engagement Officer, written for Solitary Bee Week 2023

With the sun shining down, hands caked in a mixture of clay soil, sand and straw, I am embarking on the ancient practice of making cob. Humans have been building their homes with cob for 10,000 years, but today I am doing something slightly different and building a home for bees.

Male Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes) © Scarlett Weston
Male Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes) © Scarlett Weston

I am hoping to entice some Hairy-footed Flower Bees (Anthophora plumipes) to be my new neighbours. They are one of my favourite solitary bees as their early emergence in May signals the start of spring and promises more sunny days ahead. I shape my cob bricks and use a stick to poke the cavities that I hope will become a nest for this spectacular species. Nearby, a gingery-male zips between the Green Alkanet and Bluebells, easily identified with his yellow moustache and characteristic feathered feet.

Suddenly, he darts off on a high-speed pursuit of a female. They buzz past so quickly that I struggle to photograph them. She lands on the Bluebells and he hovers close, wings beating 400x per second, waiting for his moment to pounce and mate with her. This species has an unusual mating dance where the male mounts the female and waves his front legs in the air, fanning her with his hairy feet. However, this is a story of unrequited love as the female flies off before he can make his move.

The female now free from her pursuer feasts hungrily on the Spotted Dead Nettles. With her fuzzy black body and orange hind legs she could be mistaken for a bumblebee, but she is one of around 240 species of solitary bees we have here in the UK. Unlike the Honeybee and our social bumblebees, she works alone collecting pollen to provision her nest. Once my cob creation dries, I hope this could be her new home as this species likes to nest in vertical faces of old cob walls, soft mortar, and cliffs.

Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes) © Scarlett Weston Female Deadnettle
Female Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes) © Scarlett Weston

My name is Scarlett Weston and I am delivering Get London Buzzing, an exciting new project which is creating opportunities for people who live and work in London to help pollinating insects in their local area. I’ve recently been delivering a series of workshops in London on how to build for bees.

Bee hotels can be as simple as a bundle of bamboo canes 10cm in length with holes ranging from 2-10mm in diameter to house a variety of species. By positioning your hotel in a sunny south-facing spot, 1m off the ground in a rain-resistant frame – you could attract some spectacular solitary bees to your garden. If you’re lucky, you may see the holes fill with mud as a mason bee constructs her nest inside. Or perhaps you’ll spot a leafcutter bee flying to the hotel carrying a leaf she has cut with her large mandibles to line the bamboo canes.

If you would like to learn more about how you can create different nesting habitats and places for pollinators to shelter in your garden, why not listen to the webinar I recently gave:

Join us & celebrate the wonderful world of solitary bees!

90% of bee species are solitary bees and along with other pollinating animals their hard work is responsible for at least one in every three mouthfuls we eat. However, like many species, they are under threat and need our help.

We invite you to Earn Your Stripes by pledging to help the bees, Wear Your Stripes for a day, or the entire week, and Share Your Stripes by helping us to raise awareness and share your activities, solitary bee facts and photos across your socials this Solitary Bee Week

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Tag us and share your solitary bee journey using the hashtags #SolitaryBeeWeek | #WearYourStripes | #ShareYourStripes | #EarnYourStripes

Join in with our monthly #SolitaryBeeHour on the 1st day of every month at 1:00pm on Twitter; be sure to tag us @SolitaryBeeWeek and use the hashtag

Main image credit: Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes) © Natural England-Allan Drewitt (Flickr CC)