We may not rush to smell their aroma or coo over how beautiful they may be, but nettles are a very important plant in the world of wildlife and can also be very valuable to people. The RSPB is asking that people see then as much more than just a weed.
More than 40 kinds of insects are supported by the native plant stinging nettles. They act as magnets for birds and others that eat insects like shrews, frogs, toads and hedgehogs during the entire year.
Many overwintering insects are held by nettle patches which hover around the nettles in spring and provide early season food for lady birds. Blue tits and other birds eat these aphids as they dart around the stems. The myriad of seeds produced in late summer are food from the birds that eat seeds including chaffinches, bullfinches and sparrows.
Nettles also help to support some of the most colourful of all butterflies like the red admiral, comma, tortoiseshell and the peacock butterflies, feeding in large groups near the top of the stems of the nettles. Nettles are also liked by moths, some insects and some only live in nettle patches, like the nettle weevil.
Stinging hairs on the nettle act as protection against grazing animals and only those that are the bravest and hardiest will eat them. Cultivating a nettle patch in your garden is even suggested by the RSPB and request that you think twice before getting rid of a patch that is in your garden now. Nettles have a very long cultural significance as well as being beneficial to wildlife and can be of value to people. Some have eaten them for centuries.