Bunnings, Big W, Aldi slammed for selling garden 'death traps'

Michael Dahlstrom
·News and Video Producer
·5-min read

Popular bee houses being sold by Australian retailers this Christmas could be acting as “death traps” for native species according to a warning issued by an expert.

Online community group Save the Bees is calling on Bunnings, Aldi and Big W to rethink their sale of commercial wooden insect houses, many of which they say are plagued with design flaws.

“They could be at best not be used by bees, or at worse represent death traps for any bees that do use them,” a social media post from the group, quoting bee ecologist Kit Pendergast says.

Bunnings, Big W and Aldi have been criticised for selling native bee hotels which critics say have design flaws. Source: Michael Dahlstrom
Bunnings, Big W and Aldi have been criticised for selling native bee hotels which critics say have design flaws. Source: Michael Dahlstrom

Their online warning has attracted more than 7000 shares and 745 comments at the time of writing, with many respondents saying the bee houses they bought have only attracted spiders and wasps.

“My bee hotel from Bunnings looks very cute but spiders have made it their home,” wrote one person.

“Never seen anything on it let alone bees. Think there's a few spider webs,” added someone else.

Bunnings, Big W and Aldi at centre of bee house dispute

While a handful of insect lovers said they had managed to attract bees with commercially bought bee houses, the Save the Bees founder Simon Mulvany told Yahoo News Australia that the majority of respondents had shared negative experiences.

Mr Mulvany said most of the discussion he has seen online concerned products sold at Aldi and Bunnings stores.

A screenshot of the Save the Bees Australia Facebook post
A post to social media criticising commercial bee houses has garnered more than 7000 comments. Source: Facebook

“Ninety per cent of people are saying they’re just gathering cobwebs ever since they bought them, but admittedly there are a couple of people who are saying bees have moved in,” he said.

“I’m glad (the post has) got the response it has, but I’m not surprised.”

After being alerted to the group’s concern by Yahoo News Australia, Aldi said they welcome the community feedback and will take it on board, while Big W thanked the community for raising their concerns and said they will look into it with their supplier.

Bunnings said it is are aware of Ms Prendergast’s concerns about native bee houses, but indicated there is a crucial detail about their product being overlooked.

To bee or not to bee, purpose of insect houses disputed

While the bee community are in a “buzz” over the bee houses, Bunnings points out that products they retail are designed to be overall insect houses, and are not bee specific.

The gardening retailer indicated they have corresponded with Ms Prendergast on a number of occasions, including discussing a product that she is marketing for sale.

Bunnings general manager of merchandise Adrian Pearce told Yahoo News Australia discussion from bee advocates is welcome, and that the kit they retail was developed through consultation with the industry.

Close up of a native bee.
Native bees require specific housing conditions say experts. Source: Kit Pendergast

“It’s important to understand that this product is designed to create a home for a range of insects, wasps and bees rather than bees alone,” Mr Pearce said in a statement.

“It has different components to accommodate different types of pollinators and the type of wood and treatment is appropriate for this.

“The product’s been incredibly popular with customers however we also understand some would like an option for bees alone.”

Ecologist says Bunnings, Big W and Aldi products have design flaws

Ms Pendergast, the author of Creating a Haven for Native Bees, told Yahoo News Australia that while she has written to Bunnings, she is yet to see a response a response.

She has accused retailers of “bee washing”, a play on the term “green washing” which is used to describe organisations who invest in marketing their brand as environmental, rather than actually working to be sustainable.

Ms Pendergast said her research has identified bee hotels or houses as being a great way to help native species, but found if specific conditions are not met the man-made hives make them vulnerable to predators and illness.

Left - close up of a native bee. Right - design specs for bee housing.
Ecologist Kit Prendergast says she wants to educate retailers about native bee requirements. Source: Supplied

Bee houses are supposed to mimic the natural tiny holes made in large trees, however when those living spaces are of the incorrect size, they can attract bee predators instead, she argues.

Parasitic insects are not the only horrors the bees could face, with Ms Pendergast warning that bee houses treated with fungicides and pesticides can result in mortality.

Incorrect housing could attract feral bees

Bigger is seldom better for native bees, despite size being a selling point of some commercial houses, according to Ms Pendergast.

She says attempting to attract too many bees too is a “key design flaw” and that populations should not be congested as clustered bees are more susceptible to illness.

Split screen of a native bee being attacked by an assassin bug.
Native bees are targeted by predators like this assassin bug. Source: Kai Wolfgangson

“If disease gets in it’s just going to wipe out entire populations,” Ms Pendergast said.

“In nature (bees) will go to different trees rather than one massive wall, but essentially, that’s what some of these hotels are now being publicised as.

“Rather than doing good for bees they can actually do more harm.”

One brand comes complete with seeds for introduced species of flowers, which she says will not benefit native bees, but instead attract competitors including European honey bees.

“There's like a lot of issues with these poorly designed ones, and I feel like Bunnings and Aldi are being very irresponsible in selling these, the hotel to the public,” Ms Prendergast said.

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