This last week for us has heralded the start of that most glorious time of year – blackberry picking season! We’ve been out gorging ourselves on Britain’s best and most bountiful wild berry twice this week and have a huge pot of blackberries in our fridge waiting to be turned into a crumble or blackberry upside-down cake. Roo has had no problems remembering what blackberries are this year and it took Beth precisely 5 minutes to add the word ‘blackberry’ (or’ back-bee’ as she says it) to her otherwise limited vocabulary. We are still working out way through the bramble jelly supplies from last year’s harvest and I am about to hit the cookery books for more inspiration on what to do with all the berries we intend to pick over the coming weeks. I’ve heard venison is good in blackberry sauce…mmmm!
Brambles shrubs – the welcome bearers of the delicious blackberry fruit – are a vital part of our countryside for many other reasons than just providing us with the very best British autumn puddings once a year! Their spiky tendrils that seem to creep into almost any hedge space are also critical for supporting a whole wealth of wildlife.
In the late spring and summer the bramble is an important source of nectar for bees, hoverfly, lacewing (all good guys you want in your veggie garden) and a whole host of butterflies such as the Silver-washed Fritillary, Brimstone, Comma, Gatekeeper and Speckled Wood. The leaves of the Bramble are an important food source for caterpillars too with species such as the Fox Moth and Peach Blossoms laying their eggs on the leaves so that there is a ready food source available for when the larvae emerge.
Come the autumn and the brambles put on a feast for wildlife, with birds such as the increasingly rare song thrush, blackbirds, robins, starling and all sorts of other winged creatures pigging out on nature’s bounty. Mice, ground birds and even foxes have been known to nibble on low lying fruit as they prepare for the difficult winter months ahead.
Even when the flowers and fruit have long gone, the brambles are still a mini habitat for wildlife. Their drooping, ground-sweeping branches and dense shape create a welcome refuge for mice, hedgehogs and even dormice, with the thorny tendrils providing protection from larger predators. Birds use the brambles for nesting too and the leaves are home to a list of insects far too numerous to list here -all of which in turn provide a different kind of supper for all manner of birds and mammals that prey on them.
So as you go gathering blackberries this autumn, take a look at those unkempt, prickly branches in a new way and try not to get too grumpy about that rogue beetle or spider that sneaks into your blackberry pot. When the kids get bored of staining their hands and mouths red then perhaps take a bug pot or magnifying glass with you to check out just how many species of insect and animals they can find living amongst the leaves. We will be doing just that on our next blackberry outing – both to entertain Roo, educate us all and hopefully give me time to pick enough berries for this year’s round of blackberry jelly! Isn’t nature wonderful?
If you go blackberrying I’d love to hear about the nature you discover whilst out in the fields. Do leave a comment and let me know what you find. Happy blackberry season!