By Michael Blencowe, Senior Learning and Engagement Officer
Ivy is the all-in-one nature reserve, kebab shop and goblin scarer.
The flowers which have filled our countryside and gardens with colour and have provided our insects with nectar will have shut up shop for another year. But there is one plant that is only just revealing its flowers, opening up for business long after the others have closed their doors.
When ivy comes into bloom, you see it flowering with bobbly explosions of pale green.
For our insects, ivy is the kebab shop of plants; it offers welcome nourishment for those that like staying out late in the year. And, like a kebab shop, you're going to find a funny old mix of characters queueing up for one last meal before they head off to sleep for the winter. Beautiful butterflies dine alongside wasps; Queen Bumblebees jostle with lowly Hoverflies and our Ivy bushes literally buzz with life.
The importance of ivy to the wildlife of our towns cannot be understated. Aside from this vital late season nectar supply ivy's evergreen leaves also feed caterpillars - including those of the Holly Blue butterfly and the elegant Swallow-tailed moth. These leathery leaves also provide a hibernating site for Brimstone and Comma butterflies. On cold winter evenings the ivy serenades us with the chirp and chatter of an invisible Starling and Sparrow choir roosting in its waterproof warmth. Its black berries keep visiting winter Thrushes fuelled and in the spring it is a nesting site for Robins and Wrens. Ivy covers a blank brick wall with a piece of living graffitti. It's a nature reserve that has spread itself across our villages, towns and cities.
But despite all the life it supports, ivy has a reputation as a killer, its roots sucking the life from the trees it surrounds. This isn't true; ivy manufactures its own nourishment just like any other honest plant.
And we can't forget an important service that ivy provides for us humans. For centuries ivy has protected us from house goblins. Bringing ivy into your home as a decoration at Christmas (the time when goblins are apparently at their most pesky) will ensure that your festive season passes without a burnt turkey or a blown fairy light.
Next time you're passing your nearest ivy bloom grab your camera and have a look amongst the butterflies, wasps and hoverflies for a new ivy customer and a new arrival to our shores - the Ivy Bee. These attractive, harmless bees were first recorded in the UK in Dorset in 2001 and have since spread all across the south coast. There's more information on finding, identifying and reporting them here.