“A shrub with a poor nitrogen profile is actually a good native topcoat for biodiversity.”

“A shrub with a poor nitrogen profile is actually a good native topcoat for biodiversity.”

Black berries are known as a sign of disturbances in nature, including nitrogen. Unjustified, believes researcher and blackberry enthusiast Rink Jan Bielsma. As he walks down Rijk van Nijmegen, he stands for his beloved plant.

Coin Moons

The average hiker in Sint-Jansberg in the Limburg village of Plasmolen will quickly pass a rim full of prickly berries. But Rienk Jan Bijlsma, a researcher at Wageningen University, is surprised. “Now it’s a pretty pink, just this color. You can also see bees and bumblebees around it. Blackberries are also an important source of nectar for butterflies.”

Bijlsma clearly sees the value of blackberries, but this is not actually the case for the rest of the Netherlands. Take, for example, the debate over nitrogen. Many politicians simplify the result of nitrogen deposition in nature to “nature with only nettles and blackberries”.

But blackberries are also synonymous with the problems of nature’s managers. “Blackberries and nettles, they interact well and so it’s been used for years as an example of turbulence in nature. But that’s not always the case.” Especially where it’s naturally humid and not anymore, you get eruptions of bumps there. But this tells us more about dehydration than about nitrogen. And in most places it is simply part of the vegetation that suits it, it belongs to Dutch nature.”

An essential part of Dutch nature

Together with other researchers, he wrote a pamphlet on the value of blackberries in Dutch nature. the address Bramenland Netherlands He says enough. “Blackberries are an essential part of Dutch nature, in our climate zone blackberries are part of it. You find them far to the east in Germany or in southern Sweden.”

Moreover, “BlackBerry” does not exist; In the Netherlands there are more than two hundred different species. The great variety of blackberries is associated with a wide range of specific growing locations, ranging from acidic to calcareous and from nutrient-poor to nutrient-rich. “It’s a very interesting group, also from an ecological point of view,” Bijlsma continues. BlackBerry fans sometimes say: ‘You can kick us out of the car anywhere in the Netherlands and I can find out where I am in Holland through my BlackBerry’.

Since the Ice Age, blackberry plants have evolved from just a few species per landscape, he says. “As a result, you have species that are particularly adapted to poor dry soils, somewhat richer soils, moisture-rich soils, etc. So every landscape has its own combination of blackberry species. If I wander around here, I can quickly say that we are in the Rijk van Nijmegen.”

WUR researcher Rienk Jan Bijlsma picks the leaves of two different types of blackberry bushes.Statue of Tegmen Berens

red bitch

Bijlsma specifically took us to this site, about ten kilometers south of Nijmegen, because of the richness of blackberry species and the ancient forest history of the area. “All the forests here are remnants of what was once the great Reichswald, a forest that stretches from Nijmegen through Beek-Ubbergen, Berg en Dal, Groesbeek, and eventually into Germany, the part that is still called Reichswald. It’s an incredibly old forest and you can tell by the plants that live there.”

“Blackberries have traditionally been popular here. You hardly see any blackberries on the Veluwe. Partly because they are eaten by deer and deer, but also because by nature it is so poor. Where we are now you have loess soil, which is ideal for raspberries.” An area with a long research history when it comes to blackberries. In the 1950s biologists Kern and Richgelt from Nijmegen were the first botanists to show interest in blackberries in Dutch nature and take a closer look at the wider environment.

“They called this pink-flowered species ‘red bitch’, because they encountered it everywhere around Nijmegen, but they couldn’t name it. It turned out to be a species not yet described. It was later given the scientific name Rubus rubrum corpseSo red bitch.

Blackberry variety group

Once talking about blackberries, Bijlsma doesn’t stop. “Look, here you see the typical buds with leaves only. They will flower only next year and then they will have roots at the top that go deep into the ground. Then the old part dies off. In this way, the blackberry walks through the forest and thus can reach the most suitable places. Special, isn’t it?”

Furthermore, Bijlsma shows how blackberries are part of a plant community that fits right into the edge of the forest. “You see false sage, honeysuckle, rough field rush, valley grass, and thus one or two species of bramble accompanying it.” In the forest itself, there is a species that Bielsma would like to show: the round wood bramble, a kind of old forest. Holland has a range of blackberries that remains much smaller than most blackberries and often grows in smaller numbers on the forest floor. This is a species that you can only find in the ancient forests of Drenthe, in the south of Limburg and here in the ancient Reichswald.

Bielsma takes a step back and makes an imaginary menu with his own hands. “Look at that old oak tree, that fern, and then that bramble forest. This picture is actually a group from the Niederreichswald. That gives the area an extra natural value!”

A bee sitting on the flowers of a blackberry plant.  Statue of Tegmen Berens

A bee sitting on the flowers of a blackberry plant.Statue of Tegmen Berens

These species not only have intrinsic value, but are also important to the ecosystem. In addition to being a source of nectar, they also provide hiding places for various birds, mammals, tree frogs, and locusts use them as a courtship ground. And then, of course, there are the fruits. These are not only picked by humans, but also eaten by birds, chickens, mice, and foxes. “I know of examples of mice that had a nest full of blackberry seeds, which shows how important they are to those animals,” says Bielsma.

Misleading story

He calls on nature managers to be more careful with blackberries in their nature reserves and not to take the brushcutter too quickly. “Of course there are situations where you want to intervene, for example if there are meters high blackberry bushes due to drought. But in most cases you should value blackberries and leave it at that.”

And the blackberry has a bad reputation as an indicator of an excess of nitrogen, isn’t that true at all? “That’s the case in some places, there are so many nitrogen-loving blackberry cultivars,” Bielsma says. And we certainly don’t want to underestimate the consequences of nitrogen deposition, on the contrary. Those consequences are dire, but you usually don’t read it from the amount of blackberries.

“In the Veluwe forests and desert lands, you don’t see a single bramble tree, but there are enormous problems with imbalances in nutrients caused by nitrogen. So we think the story of mulberries and nettles misleads people. Instead, point out the wind dome and corlor that have disappeared from the wild. Ask why they are dead quiet on health and there are hardly any insects. These are the real results of nitrogen.”

Read also:

From rabbit to sundew: these plants and animals are in danger zone due to nitrogen emissions

Excess nitrogen threatens the survival of the species. And it’s not just protected and vulnerable flora and fauna that are struggling. Four examples.

Scientists say that in addition to nitrogen, phosphorus is also processed. In fact, more plant species disappear than if you did nothing.

The Utrecht researchers warn that a one-sided concern for nitrogen is harmful to nature, if phosphorus is not dealt with at the same time. Phosphate from compost sticks to the soil and diffuses through groundwater and surface water.

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