Stepping into springtime – Bluebell Bonanza

Credit Chris Day

One of the most wondrous and breath-taking sights of spring is the expansive blue woodland carpets that our native bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) produces. Taking advantage of the sunlight before the woodland canopy closes in leaf, one of Britain’s most loved wild flowers provides a show that both people and wildlife can appreciate and surely tells us spring has sprung.

Found in woody habitats, bluebells can be discovered in fields and hedgerows, but their best displays occur in ancient woodlands that have been present for many centuries.  Time has allowed them to multiply and produce millions of bulbs which give rise to this fantastic and vibrant floral display.  They flower from mid-April through to the end of May and along with other species of plant can indicate if a woodland is ancient – which means it has been present since 1600.  These woodlands are amongst the rarest and fragile habitats in Warwickshire but pressure from development and a fragmentation of the landscape, along with a lack of management have seen these important sites decline in the last century, threatening our bluebells.

Therefore the presence of Bluebells is important and especially to woodland wildlife in that they produce an early nectar source for different insect species like butterflies and bees.  They are also threatened however by the introduced non-native species, the Spanish bluebell (Hyacintoides hispanica).  This ornamental and garden import can cross pollinate and create a hybridised version of our own which means the original genepool of our native bluebells are lost.  The difference between our native species and that of the Spanish bluebell are quite obvious however.  Our native bluebells has a sweet scent whereas the Spanish version has no smell.  Our species is delicate and willowy, in that it nods and droops when in flower, but the non-native is more robust and upright. Finally, the pollen of our native bluebells on their anthers (the part of the part that holds the pollen in the centre) is always white or creamy and the flowers will be always blue.  The non-native species comes in whites, creams, pinks and purples and the anthers are the same colour.

It's really important to do two things if we wish to protect our native bluebell for future generations to enjoy the displays and for the wildlife that benefits.  This is to not introduce non-native species or remove our native bluebells - which in fact are protected by law so the taking and selling of them is an offence.  The other action we can take is ensuring our woodlands are well managed.  By making sure we continue the intervention to woodlands through thinning and coppicing, whilst this might have an immediate impact to the bluebells this means the woodlands are resilient to change like climatic changes and disease, ensuring the woodland has a diverse age and structure and stays around for centuries more. Whilst the newly opened canopy allows a proliferation of bramble and other more dominant plants, over a decade or so, as the canopy returns and shades out other species, the bluebells remain in the ground awaiting the right time to produce that fantastic show again.

So, with spring arriving, now is the time to plan your visit to one of our woodland nature reserves to ensure you do not miss this wondrous carpet of blue.  A number of the woodlands that are owned or managed by us provide this fantastic display, so seek one out and make sure you take in the breath-taking sight.  Woodland reserves that are great for bluebells include Ryton Wood, Oakley Wood, Crackley Wood or Hampton Wood and please visit our reserves pages to find out local information and how to access the sites.