Homes for wildlife – a waste of money?

Are shop-bought animal homes really worth the money?

Greenland shark, British wildlife, seals,
This is the time of year when Christmas catalogues start appearing on my doormat (I’ve received about a dozen so far and it’s still only mid-November).
Flicking through the glossy pages, I’m struck by how many animal homes you can buy for your garden these days. From neatly drilled bee logs to thatched hedgehog havens, terracotta frogitats and toad abodes – it seems that every animal’s needs are catered for.
You can even get a miniature timber-framed shed for overwintering lacewings (which, let’s face it, are hardly the pin-ups of the insect world).
Great, you might think. At last all the other garden creatures are getting in a look in – blue tits, robins and our other feathered friends have had it their own way for too long. And it is great that we are taking a more rounded, holistic view of our gardens as important wildlife habitats.
But have you ever wondered how many of these deluxe wildlife residences actually get used? The answer is – not as many as you would hope, according to a new report by Which? Gardening.
During a year-long trial, the Which? testers found that a worrying number of shop-bought animal homes were ineffective and uneccessary. In other words – a waste of money.
It’s easy to make your own cheap and cheerful versions using whatever you have to hand – old plastic bottles and flowerpots, empty coconut shells, bits of rubble, rotting logs, straw and dead leaves are ideal. All you need is a bit of imagination. And sometimes improvised wildlife homes perform better than their pricey commercial equivalents.
In the Which? study for example, a homemade solitary bee nest costing virtually nothing to make was more successful than a shop-bought model. Here are some tips on how to make your own bee home.
Of course, there’s no harm in decorating your garden or yard with fancy wildlife homes if you want to. If you buy them from charities, then your money goes to a good cause, too. And plenty of them may well work as intended (I haven’t done a test myself). But it’s worth bearing in mind that an expensive bee log isn’t necessarily going to be the bee’s knees.
For no-nonsense, practical – and affordable – advice on making your garden great for wildlife, check out our Wildlife Gardening series by expert Steve Harris.

Ben is Features Editor of BBC Wildlife.