Spring has sprung and the bluebells are beginning to bloom. Everyone wants to go see the woodlands’ stunning purple blue carpets but the bluebell’s popularity has also become their downfall.
I love bluebells, they make such a wondrous sight filling woodland floors with bright colour before the heavy greens of summer arrive. They always set my imagination wild, I almost expect unicorns to trot out from between the trees it’s that magical to me. That is one of the things I love about woods, the power they have to invoke my imagination.
I’m not the only one who is enchanted by the bluebells at this time of year. Many of us head to the woods to see the displays and rightly so. People exploring the woods and children frolicking in the flowers, often posing amongst them for that magical prize-winning photo. But the hordes of feet that come with those crowds trample the very flowers people have come to see.
This has resulted in major declines in bluebells across the UK. This is truly heartbreaking as these iconic flowers benefit the similarly declining honeybee as well as butterflies and other insects. Heartwood Forest in St. Albans has lost a football pitch worth of bluebells since people have been coming to visit them. As people freely explore and pick their way through the bluebells they become crushed, and tributary-like paths form through the flowers. These paths only grow bigger and more destructive over time as more and more people wander from the original path. And this happens all year round, the plants can be crushed even as they lay dormant underground for most of the year.
The problem is that bluebells are bulb flowers that do not reseed or spread easily or quickly. Those same bulbs have likely been there for years, sprouting new growth from the same fragile bulb. They also mainly grow in ancient woodland because of the ancient preserved soils and will not survive if the soils are disturbed. They are delicate and rare treasures that we should not take for granted, especially here in the UK with our disappearing wilderness. If a bluebell is trampled too much this year, it means it won’t come back next year. This, inevitably, leads to less and less bluebells.
So if you are heading out to the woods to see them this spring and want to see them again in the future, please stick to the proper paths (all year round) and enjoy them from afar rather than from afoot. Also, remember to not pick the flowers (this is actually illegal), leave them there to be enjoyed by everyone and for future generations. Otherwise, within our lifetimes the great British bluebell may vanish forever.
You can find out more about bluebells and find woods to go see them here at the Woodland Trust. I hope to share some of my own bluebell adventures with you soon when I go out to see them in full bloom!