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Scientists call for bluebell detectives

06 April 2007

Scientists at the Natural History Museum are asking the public to become bluebell detectives this spring to discover if Britain's favourite wildflower is under threat.

The 2007 online survey called Exploring British Wildlife: Bluebells asks the public to identify and record the different bluebell types they find.

Three species

There are three different species of bluebell in the British Isles - native, Spanish and a hybrid. The Spanish bluebell and its cultivated varieties were introduced to UK gardens over 200 years ago. The hybrid bluebell, formed by the native and Spanish forms, now appears to be more common than its Spanish parent.

The survey will map where bluebells grow in the UK and will help scientists learn about the relationship between the three species while measuring the risk to the native British species.

New ways to identify

Using field studies and genetic research scientists at the Natural History Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh have selected a new set of characteristics to aid bluebell identification. The public will be testing these characteristics as part of the survey.

Climate change

The impact of our changing climate may also be cause for concern. 'Britain's bluebells may be undergoing rapid evolutionary changes,' said Mark Spencer, British plant expert at the Museum.

'Combined with changes in climate we really don't know what this means for their chances of survival. We may even start to see regional extinctions as weather patterns change but we need the public's help if we are to understand what's really happening.'

'Voted Britain's most popular wild flower in a Plantlife public poll,' said Katherine Steward, Plantlife's People for Plants Officer, 'the native bluebell has its international stronghold in the UK, with more than 50 per cent of the world's total population.'  'This means that we have a global responsibility to conserve it'.

'Plantlife plays a leading role by raising awareness of the threats from illegal collection, mislabelling of bulbs in garden centres and habitat loss. This spring's survey is a terrific opportunity for the public to play their part to help conserve one of the UK's most iconic wild flowers.'

Find out how to identify the different bluebells and how to take part in the survey, at www.nhm.ac.uk/bluebells .