Stinging nettles across the country started wilting, turning black and literally losing their sting in early September. A dog walker in Surrey was the first to notice the phenomenon: ‘I thought thank f@$k for that. There was a big patch of the bastards over by the railway line. Always used to catch my ankles in the summer. Glad to see the back of them’.
While the Head of the Botany department at King’s College, was circumspect when asked how many botanists had been assigned to identifying the virus. ‘It’s not a priority at the moment. Our thoughts are concentrated on finding a good venue for this year’s Christmas party’
By December it is estimated that there’ll be no nettles left anywhere in the country, something that prompted a Friends of the Earth spokesperson to issue a stark warning. ‘A nation without stinging nettles would probably mean a reduction in, I don’t know, moths maybe. And that could have a devastating effect on moth eaters and whatever moths eat. On the other hand, no more stinging nettles!’
The extinction of one species can often have a knock-on effect on others. Asked whether the demise of stinging nettles would result in the disappearance of dock leaves, long reputed to have soothing effects for anyone stung by the all-pervasive nettle, one botanist merely shrugged. ‘That whole dock leaves thing proved as useful to many people as knowing that a man can break a swan’s wing, or whatever it is. Anyone seen a dock leaf? No. Know what they look like? No. I don’t care if they’re wiped out too for all the good they’ve ever done.