Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Records Centre

Natural History Museum Bluebell Survey

Bluebell at Hagbourne Copse, WWT/David Hall

A purple mist of Bluebells is a classic picture of spring in British woodlands, however there are increasing concerns about the threat of hybridisation, the genetic mixing, of our native (Common) Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and the non-native Spanish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), with hybrids already appearing to be more common than Spanish Bluebells and completely replacing our native Bluebell in some urban areas.

While in Britain the recording of wildflowers has a long history, in many cases this has only occurred locally preventing a national picture from being developed. Therefore 6 years ago the Natural History Museum launched a national annual survey to record the location, species and flowering times of our Bluebells. More recently they have been using the information gathered on flowering times to identify potential effects of climate change. Considerably more data is required before conclusions can be draw on these effects but the more information that can be gathered each year the more accurate these conclusions will be.

Protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) it is illegal to sell wild-dug bulbs of our native Bluebell, and with almost half of the world’s population of Common Bluebell found in the UK its protection here is internationally important.

Occurring in shaded areas such as woodlands and along hedgerows our native Bluebell produces a strong sweet smell with deep violet flowers all of which nod to one side. Alternatively the Spanish Bluebell has been widely cultivated and is therefore to be found in many urban areas including gardens and parks, the flowers may be held more upright than our native species and occur in a wider range of colours, from the expected pale to mid blue to white or pink.

Hybridisation between native and non-native species has occurred as a result of garden escapees and therefore is often seen in urban areas, highlighting the importance of disposing of garden waste responsibly. These hybrid individuals can display traits from both species and can be as varied in colour as the Spanish Bluebell.

Anyone can take part in this survey and no specific knowledge of UK wildflowers is required. More information on how to identify Bluebells and how to carry out the survey can be found on the Natural History Museum website . When you have completed your survey simply record your findings online.

Why not start your surveying at one of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s reserves; the woodlands at Hagbourne Copse are awash with Bluebells in the spring, along with a variety of other woodland flowers.

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