Think before pulling up those stinging nettles

NETTLES may not be admired for their beauty or scent, but they are valuable for wildlife and people, says the RSPB.

The wildlife charity is urging people to look at them as something other than a troublesome weed.

Stinging nettles support more than 40 kinds of insects, for whom the sting can form a protective shield against grazing animals.

Many nettle patches hold overwintering insects which swarm around fresh spring nettles and provide 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, 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 Butterflies. Their larvae feed in large groups in silken tents at the top of the nettle stems.

The RSPB suggests cultivating a nettle patch in your garden, and thinking twice before removing them as they can be easily managed by trimming and mowing.

The wildlife charity also suggests that your nettle patch isn’t relegated to a distant, shady corner, and that ensuring their growth in sunny areas will encourage egg laying and attract insects.

It says that by cutting them back in the summer you will also encourage a late flush of leaves.

As well as being beneficial to wildlife, nettles have long running cultural significance, and can be of value to people too.

People have eaten them for centuries and they are a good source of calcium, magnesium and iron among other trace elements and vitamins. They can be used in many soups and stews instead of spinach.

Nettles have also been used to produce a fine fibre that can be used in clothing and string.

The juice from their stems has been used to produce a permanent green dye and you can brew nettles to produce a plant food.

For more information about how to turn your garden into a wildlife haven visit www.rspb.org.uk/hfw