Worthing’s Heene Cemetery had two new hotels installed this summer – without requiring planning permission – courtesy of Peter Standing and his ingenuity and hard work. But residents of Heene need not be alarmed at the prospect of increased footfall in their quiet neighbourhood as these hotels are bug hotels and will operate without increased road traffic. Indeed the only buzzing that may be heard will not be of air conditioning units, but of tiny insects.
Everyone involved with the Heene Cemetery project is well aware of the extraordinary biodiversity that is being uncovered there. At the time of writing, we have a grand tally of some 319 different species, of which 32 are insects. These species counts are being continuously updated and it is guaranteed that these numbers will climb as more records are taken. They indicate the richness of Heene Cemetery’s town-centre mini-habitat, most of which is attributable to its rich meadowland history. (Meadows typically consist of land that hasn’t been tilled, ploughed or trodden by domesticated animals. The sweep of the scythe will have been the most intensive labour down through the ages.) This historic non-disturbance of the land – save for the digging of graves between 1873 and 1977 – goes a long way towards explaining the cemetery’s richness.
Peter initially planned to construct one bug hotel and was therefore pretty clear that it wasn’t going to be needed to encourage insects to settle in the cemetery: they are already there. What was needed was an educational resource that could get the message across about the importance of insect diversity. After all, as the great American biologist E.O. Wilson said: “If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed a hundred thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.” Insects may be important to themselves and to everything that feeds on them, but they are vital for mankind’s continuation of this planet – and we need to get this.
Three criteria were therefore identified for Heene’s new bug hotel:
- it needed to be located where visitors could safely get to it to view it;
- it needed to be of a height and size that visitors of all ages could see inside it;
- and it needed to be made from re-cycled materials.
It was also felt that the finished hotel should consist of different sections so that each section could be furnished with a diversity of habitats, promoting a mix of residents.
Peter appreciated that pallets were key to what could be accomplished as they would provide the structural strength he was looking for. (He had seen the impressive one at Horsham Park using this design.) The base and side walls were therefore assembled from entire pallets provided by a neighbour. Other pallets were dismantled – not a job for the faint-hearted as clench nails need forceful encouragement to unclench – and the slats were used to provide internal shelving, the different ‘floors’. A door was sawn to shape to provide a nicely pitched roof which was, in turn, covered with a piece of roofing felt. Some downpipe and hose left-over from other DIY projects were employed to harvest rainwater and collect it in buckets.
The completed skeleton was delivered to the cemetery, ready for the fitting-out stage. Dead and rotting wood, leaves and dried grasses were installed. Amazingly, there was enough material left over for Peter to construct a second hotel, this time using roof tiles, a few bricks and some thermal insulation. Both hotels are now in situ, fully furnished and, most certainly, occupied.
What happens next will be up to the insects. There may be confusion between staff and residents, or competition as to which one wears the red livery of the bellhop: might it be the infamous Hogweed Bonking Beetle or perhaps the Seven-spot Ladybird? Which one will wear the coveted waistcoat of the executive housekeeper: the sober Syrphus ribesii Hoverfly or the more snazzily-dressed Helophilus pendulus Hoverfly? Will the Black Clock Beetle ensure that everything runs on time? We shall need to keep a compound eye on developments, won’t we? We will no doubt be itching to find out.