Findings so far

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.

Effects of gardening

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

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. 

Flowering times

In 2010 we began to focus on the flowering times of bluebells to understand the effects of climate change on them. Natural fluctuations mean we will need years of data before we can draw significant conclusions, but these are our observations so far.

Four years of data already show noticeable annual fluctuations. Our observers reported flowering in 2013 to be 3-4 weeks later than the previous year.

Aside from one anomalous record in February, the earliest reported flowering in 2013 was on 15 March. This was only 9 days later than in 2012, but most plants were still a long way from flowering. The peak flowering period in 2013 occurred about two months later.

In 2012 the peak flowering period extended into June, probably due to the cool weather and frequent rainfall. In 2013, however, it was less protracted. The latest reports were on 29 May.

Your data had not previously suggested that Spanish and hybrid plants flower earlier than native plants, but in 2013 this seemed to be the case. Fewer people report on Spanish and hybrid bluebell populations, however - records for native plants continue to outnumber those for non-natives by about 2 to 1.

To create an accurate picture of whether flowering times are getting earlier and whether native plants flower later than non-natives, we need to record bluebell flowering times in both the countryside and towns over many years. Your help with this is vital.

Please focus on any bluebells growing in your garden or local area. By monitoring the same plant every year, you will help us to amass consistent data.

Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity 
Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity

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