The Bluebell is the sweetest flower
That waves in summer air:
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit’s care.
~ Emily Bronte
If you only do one thing in May, you must experience the breath-taking carpets of bluebells in our ancient woodland. Seeing bluebells carpeting a woodland floor has to be a highlight of any spring walk. These delicate blooms can be found across Western Europe, and about half of the world’s bluebell population are right here in the UK.
Bluebells take a long time to get established, so if you come across a thick swathe of them it is often a sign that you are in an ancient woodland. In England, an ancient woodland is defined as an area that has been continuously wooded since at least 1600 AD. Only 2.5% of the UK is covered in ancient woodland.
‘Continuously wooded,’ does not require a continuous physical cover of trees and shrubs across the entire site. Open space, both temporary and permanent, is an important component of any woodland. Habitats such as glades, deer lawns, rides, ponds, streams, as well as gaps created by natural disturbance and normal forestry operations such as felling and coppicing may all occur within a woodland, and add to its diversity.
Our native bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) may be under threat from the non-native Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica), introduced to Britain around the late 17th century. In the last thirty years, the Spanish bluebell has escaped from gardens and has begun to mix with our native bluebells. It is fairly easy to tell the difference between native and Spanish bluebells, but the hybrids can be trickier as they take characteristics from both.
To find a bluebell woodland near you, visit the Woodland Trust website.