Your past participation in the bluebell survey has been very helpful. Since it was launched in 2006, the survey has shown the extent to which non-native bluebells have spread into the British countryside.
In most urban areas, the bluebells are now predominantly hybrids. However, large areas of the countryside still support populations of native bluebells in woods, on the coast and elsewhere.
What we grow and how we dispose of plants from our gardens can have a major effect on the wildlife of the UK.
Many people are now deliberately choosing to plant the native bluebell. We need to make sure that this doesn’t encourage illegal harvesting of native bluebells from the wild, so gardeners should make sure their bluebells come from a reliable source.
Many plants that are sold commercially as English bluebells are not pure examples of the species; they are hybrids. If these plants are disposed of near populations of native bluebells then they could also become hybridised.
We cannot completely stop genes flowing from non-native bluebells into our native plants, changing them forever, but if we dispose of garden waste responsibly then we can make this process a slower one.
Identifying bluebells is not always easy, even for expert botanists. Feedback from the survey has helped us to refine the guidance we give about how to identify bluebells correctly.
In 2010 we began focusing on the flowering times of bluebells to help us understand the effects of climate change on these plants. It is too soon to draw any conclusions about this.
Summary of findings from 2010-12:
Even with just 3 years of data we can see quite big fluctuations from year to year, with many of our observers reporting flowering in 2012 to be 2-3 weeks earlier than in previous years.
The earliest flowering reported to us was 6 March, but many of the earliest records were of odd precocious plants - most others in the area were still in bud.
Some plants were still in flower in the first week of June. The period of peak flowering was certainly much longer in 2012 than the previous 2 years, probably due to the cool weather and rainfall pattern.
Our belief that Spanish and hybrid garden plants may flower earlier than native plants is so far not supported by your data. However, less people have chosen to report on garden bluebell populations - records for native plants outnumbered those for non-natives by about 2 to 1 in 2012.
To build up an accurate picture of whether flowering times are indeed getting earlier, we need to record bluebell flowering times over a number of years. We hope you will help us to do so.
We're particularly keen for you to focus on any bluebells that are growing in your garden or local area - by monitoring the same plant every year you will help us to build up more consistent data.