The humble nettle is a haven for wildlife and worth protecting in your garden. Picture by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
GARDENING THERE’S more than one "sting" in the tale of removing nettles.
The pesky weeds appear ever more powerful these days and being a gardener of very little brain I rarely wear gloves and never get away with it without tingling which lasts for hours…
Removing nettles is not a good idea for those species that depend upon them, right up to us at the very top of the food chain.
Wildlife charity, the RSPB, is the latest to point out the value of a patch of nettles, urging Island gardeners to Step up for Nature and look at nettles as something other than a troublesome weed.
Stinging nettles support more than 40 kinds of insects, many of which over-winter, swarming around fresh spring nettles and providing early food for ladybirds. These same aphids are eaten by blue tits and other woodland birds that dart around the stems.
In late summer the huge quantity of seeds produced are food for many seed-eating birds, such as house sparrows, chaffinches and bullfinches.
Nettles are also a magnet for other insect-eaters like hedgehogs, shrews, frogs and toads, and my allotment slowworms at all times of year.
Certain moths like nettles, as do many of the UK’s most colourful and best known butterflies, such as the small tortoiseshell and peacock. Their larvae feed in large groups in silken tents at the top of the nettle stems.
Cutting nettles back in the summer will also encourage a late flush of fresh leaves.
As well as being beneficial to wildlife, nettles are of value to people too.
They have been eaten for centuries and they are a good source of calcium, magnesium and iron and vitamins. They can be used in many soups and stews instead of spinach, but, to my taste, in moderation.
The juice from their stems can be used to produce a permanent green dye and herbalists have for many generations used the leaves to treat gout and arthritis. 'N’ was always a well-thumbed page in my old mum’s Potter’s herbalists’ handbook...
• To learn more about how to provide food, shelter and habitat for wildlife in urban spaces, visit the RSPB's Homes for Wildlife project webpage at http://www.rspb.org.uk/hfw