There are 250 species of solitary bee in the UK, which makes this the largest grouping of bee species in this country. These bees do not make honey, nor can they secrete wax, and they live in individual hollows; secreting their eggs and stores of pollen in separate chambers, often sealed with mud or leaves.
Solitary bees are divided into Flower Bees, which collect pollen by sticking it with nectar to special leg hairs, Leafcutter and Mason bees, which catch it on hairs on its abdomen and Yellow Faced Bees, which swallow the pollen before regurgitating it into the nest.
Because solitary bees don't have hair on their legs which forms a 'basket', they drop pollen, which makes them more effective pollinators than sociable bees. Amazingly, a single Red Mason bee can pollinate the same number of plants as 120 worker honeybees which is why this species in particular has been introduced to orchards in Ireland where they are non-native.
Where do they live?
Some bees nest in the ground in hollows. Some nest in snail shells covered with leaves and hidden from view. Some make their homes by hollowing out stems or making use of beetle holes. You can also make a 'bee hotel' for Leafcutter, Wool Carder and Red Mason bees by bundling together short lengths of cane with string and hiding them in your hedges and trees.
How can I encourage these extraordinary insects into my garden?
Solitary bees like clean water, undisturbed ground, a garden with beetles and thus beetle holes, brambles, snails and plenty of open pollinated and wild flowers. This might be seen as 'untidiness' but a savvy gardener will know how to strike the right balance.