by Ian Brand

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

HAVE you read “A Buzz in the Meadow” by Dave Goulson, the sequel to his equally excellent “A Sting in the Tale”? Both are well worth finding space for in your suitcase or rucksack next holiday.

Each chapter starts with Goulson describing a run in the French countryside, and as an entomologist recounting the butterflies and bumblebees seen en route.

I also now run, having started later in life, and when not out cycling or walking can be seen running through the fields just beneath Burley Moor. If you are imagining something similar in appearance to local heroes the Brownlee Brothers out on a training run, then sadly you will have to think again!

I have however copied Goulson’s idea and as an amateur botanist now try to remember the flowers I have seen. There is no time to stop to get out the magnifying lens; the clock is ticking on my iPhone, strapped to my arm!

One thistle-like plant, which is easy to indentify as I jog by, and now out in flower is the Lesser or Common Burdock (Arctium minus).

I often think and smile to myself wondering how many people passing will know this common hedgerow plant was the inspiration for an amazing 20th century invention - “Velcro”.

Velcro was the brainchild of Georges de Mestral, a Swiss engineer who, in 1941 while walking in the woods, wondered if the burrs from the Burdock that clung to his trousers and dog could be turned into something useful. After eight years of research, de Mestral successfully reproduced the natural attachment with two strips of fabric, one with thousands of tiny hooks and another with thousands of tiny loops. He imaginatively named his new invention Velcro, a combination of two French words velour (velvet) and crochet (hook). Velcro was formally patented in 1955 and first made out of cotton, but de Mestral soon discovered Nylon would work better because it did not wear with use.

Velcro received a large amount of free advertising from NASA in the 1960s when Apollo astronauts could be seen securing pens, food packets and equipment they did not want from to float away in space. Since then Velcro now appears to have an endless number of uses in every day life, and to think it all started with a walk in the woods and an inquisitive mind.