Saving our beautiful bluebells

Image by Oast House Archive creative commons

Image by Oast House Archive creative commons

Did you know that the UK has 50% of the world population of common bluebells?

Those beautiful flowers that carpet our woods and forests at this time of year are an iconic feature of the British countryside. Their vivid colour and sweet scent make a walk in the month of May something special, and they are one of our favourite flowers.

They are also a protected species, and the native bluebell is under threat from an invasive non-native bluebell, sometimes known as the Spanish bluebell.


The native Bluebell and the non-native Bluebell

Image copyright L Philip Halling and R Peter A. Mansfeld, both Creative Commons via Wikipedia

Image copyright L Philip Halling and R Peter A. Mansfeld, both Creative Commons via Wikipedia

There are two species of bluebells found in the UK.

The common bluebell, sometimes called the British bluebell, has the scientific name Hyacinthoides non-scripta, is native to the UK. It has a dark blue colour, and the bell like flowers are delicate, narrow and have a tight curl in the fronds at the end of each bell. The leaves are dark green, and they have a lovely scent.

The non-native Bluebell is typically a lighter blue in colour, has a more open bell-shape to the flower with less curled fronds, and has thicker stalks and leaves, and no scent. It is native to continental Europe, but was brought over as an ornamental garden plant in Victorian times. Unfortunately, it has spread from gardens and out into the wild environment.

There are two species the non-native bluebell could be could be – the Italian Bluebell (Hyacinthoides italica) and the Spainish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) – and it’s the Spainish Bluebell that is the biggest threat and the most commong of the two non-native species you are likely to find.

 Why are they under threat?

The Spanish bluebell is robust, which means it can survive places the British bluebell doesn’t do so well in. They two species can also interbreed, producing hybrid plants. Over time, if the spread of Spanish bluebells continues, we may only find them or hybrids in the wild. This is a good example of why people should be very careful about what plants they plant and what plants they bring into the country from other places.

The common Bluebell: a protected species

Because British bluebells are under threat, they are protected by law. This means that you cannot dig up or uproot any bluebell plants in the wild.  We’d also recommend not picking wildflowers, as they are a source of food for many insects – and don’t you think they look better alive in the forests, rather than wilting at home in a vase?

The specific law that protects them is the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.

Image copyright Michael Maggs via Creative Commons

Image copyright Michael Maggs via Creative Commons


What can you do to help?

There is LOADS you can do to help!

Firstly, you should get involved in the #GreatBluebellCount, run by The Woodland Trust. This is a charity that protects and conserves our woods and forests, and they want to get an accurate map of where each type of bluebell is found. All you need to do is register on the website, then when you are out walking, identify what kind of bluebell you’ve seen and where. You then add this information to the online survey, and the Woodland Trust will use that to make the map.

It’s really simple – they even have a great ID guide to help you work out whether you’ve found a British or Spanish bluebell or a hybrid!

We reckon it also makes for a great way to spend a weekend day, hunting for bluebells, and is great for school groups too. Why not turn it into a project to find out what types of bluebells you have near your school?

Another way you can help protect bluebells is by protecting the woodlands they grow in. The Woodland Trust is always looking for volunteers and donations, and you can also see what your local Wildlife Trust has happening too. Check out our guide to volunteering to help nature for a few more suggestions.


Useful links:


Posted on May 13th, 2017 by Aoife Glass

Keep up to date with Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots

Why not sign up for our weekly newsletter, filled with inspiring stories from the Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots community in the UK. Not sure what to expect? Take a look at some of our recent emails.

Or follow us on Twitter or Facebook for updates as they happen:


Email this to a colleague Email this to a colleague

Help us keep our resources free!

All of our resources are currently free and you can help them to stay that way and support the other work of Roots & Shoots in the UK by making a donation, no matter how small. The easiest way to donate to the Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots programme UK online is by using Virgin Money Giving. This can be a one off donation for any amount you want (every pound helps!) or if you prefer you can set up a regular, monthly donation.

Make a donation using Virgin Money Giving

Our Partners

EW-Institute NGK 2041 ClimateForce quest windsor