British bluebells need your help

15 April 2009

Museum Scientists are calling on the British public to help complete a bluebell puzzle.

There is a battle between Spanish and British bluebells and scientists want to find out where in the UK the non-natives are causing a threat.

The Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, and its cultivated varieties were introduced to British gardens more than 200 years ago.

A Plantlife report in 2004 highlighted concerns that hybridisation may be having negative effects on the native bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta.


Hybridisation will alter the genetic make up of a species and can bring about its extinction. It also makes it harder to accurately identify the different bluebell types.

Crucial point in research

Since 2006, scientists have asked members of the public to help detect and record the different types of bluebells. 

Dr Fred Rumsey, botanist at the Natural History Museum has been investigating what the level of threat may be. ‘We’re at that crucial point now in research, where the picture will be complete with just a bit more information which is why we need one more final push. ’

Bluebell survey

Bluebell lovers are encouraged to use the online survey, to identify and record the different bluebell types where they live. The resulting map will show where bluebells grow in the UK and when they flower and will help scientists  work out if there is a threat or not.

More help needed

‘Interestingly our results show so far that while we know where British bluebells have been found throughout the UK, we still need more help to establish a baseline as to where Spanish bluebells and their hybrid offspring are now,’ says Rumsey.

Are hybrids better able to adapt?

‘British bluebells need a specific environment to live in and hybrids may be better adapted to changing environments. We need to know the ‘threat’ level these invaders pose to predict how our woodlands will look as climate change develops,’ concludes Rumsey.

Bluebell partnerships

The Natural History Museum is working in partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, the Ramblers’ Association (RA) and Plantlife.

Visit the Rambler’s Association’s website and take part in their free led bluebell walks, throughout April, May and June

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