30 March 2017, The Tablet

A sting in this tale


I am not a great lover of nettles, but it is distressing to hear them called “thugs”. A recent report by the charity Plantlife warns that rampant weeds such as nettles, which thrive on soil made rich by nitrogen pollution from diesel emissions, are overpowering more delicate wild flowers such as harebells and wild orchids. But it is a little unfair to blame a wild plant for taking advantage. It is a man-made problem. The nettle’s only crime is over-enthusiasm. I’m afraid it is people who are the real thugs here.

The greatest concern raised by the decline of wild flowers is the parallel loss of pollinating insects. Numbers of wild bees, including bumblebees, all of which which are central to food production, have plummeted over the past decades.
A second failing threatening bees is that not enough is done to manage the roadsides and hedgerows. Perhaps those businesses largely responsible for nitrogen pollution – oil companies and haulage firms for starters – could contribute to a national weeding plan. Call it a “bee tax”.

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