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Midsummer bramble time

Bramble: friend or foe?

Our native bramble (Rubus fruiticosus) gets a bit of a bad rap at times.  This reputation is only partly deserved.  Bramble aka blackberry is the first thing to regrow when a gap in the woodland canopy opens up after a tree has fallen or has been removed.  This is because it is a naturally vigorous species. 

It is sometimes assumed that bramble is more of a nuisance than an asset, however as with many things in the world of conservation it is not quite that simple. If left to its own devices, bramble will eventually take over large swathes of woodland.  It does impact on light levels for low growing plants but it is not quite the menace that it is imagined to be.

Friends of Ecclesall Woods’ own surveys have shown that holly (Ilex aquifolium) poses a far greater threat to woodland plants.  We have found that holly displaces bluebells far more aggressively than bramble,  because holly is evergreen and can form dense thickets.

Blackberry may be wintergreen and can grow to over five feet high, yet other plant species can and do co-exist with it.  Even delicate-looking  greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea) will climb through it to flower in the light.

Green shield bug © Charles J Sharp / Wikimedia Commons
Heath fritillary butterfly © Federicomaderno / Pixabay

Bramble is an important scrub species and provides an essential nesting habitat for wrens plus many small mammals.  Mice in particular feast upon their sugar-rich fruits as do larger birds, such as those in the thrush family.

Without scrub vegetation oak trees would struggle to regenerate; only the oak seedlings protected by bramble, and other thorny shrubs, avoid the attentions of grazing animals.

Blackberry flowers are both nectar and pollen-rich, making them an important part of the diet of pollinating insects. It is a food plant for around 150 insect species, one of which is the sap-sucking common green shield bug (Palomena prasina).  Adults lay their eggs on bramble leaves so that the larvae have something to eat when they hatch out.  Put simply, brambles are an essential part of a healthy woodland ecosystem.

Nonetheless, as a highly competitive plant it does require regular management to curb its growth. Targeted removal takes place in Ecclesall Woods once a year beginning in October, long after the fruits have withered away and nesting birds have fully fledged, and continuing through until February.