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 in East Sussex 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, 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. Samantha Stokes, spokesperson for the RSPB in the south east, said, “Nettles are often regarded as a weed, and are removed as soon as they appear, but they are really good for many different types of garden wildlife.
To learn more about how to provide food, shelter and habitat for wildlife in urban spaces, visit the RSPB’s webpage at www.rspb.org.uk/hfw.