Help map Sheffield’s True Bluebells

Thursday 13th April 2017

We are calling for budding citizen scientists to map Sheffield's bluebells throughout late April and May and help protect threatened native British bluebell populations for years to come.

It’s that time of the year when our woodland walks are a little bit more colourful thanks to a beautiful carpet of blue. Now that spring has finally sprung, bluebells are starting to flower, providing an important early source of nectar – sustaining bees, hoverflies, butterflies and other insects.

The UK’s woodlands are home to more than half of the world’s population of native bluebells – Hyacinthoides non-scripta – meaning that local populations here in Sheffield and Rotherham – where we have the most publically-accessible urban woodland in the UK – are of global importance. Native bluebells are an important indicator species for ancient woodlands, and some of the best spots in the country to find them – like Moss Valley Woodlands, Blacka Moor, Crabtree Ponds, Carbrook Ravine, Wyming Brook and Greno Woods – are right on our doorstep.

However, native bluebells themselves, as well as their ancient woodland homes, are threatened by a myriad of factors including human development and the rise of the Spanish bluebell – Hyacinthoides hispanica – which is a popular garden plant and easily hybridises with our native variety. The result is fewer native bluebells and more Spanish and hybrid bluebells with a paler complexion, stouter stance and less scent.

We are asking the general public to help map the spread of these Spanish bluebells and their hybrids which will allow us to direct their conservation efforts to protecting important native bluebell populations. To get involved, all you have to do is visit your local woodland and use our handy bluebell ID guide to tell the difference between native, Spanish and hybrid varieties. When you see a bluebell, take a close-up photo and upload it to our bluebell map – you will be helping to protect our native bluebell woods for years to come!

As part of our True Bluebells project, we are also hosting an exciting programme of bluebell events over the May Bank Holiday weekend. From fun days, family craft activities, guided bluebell walks and a talk by the Natural History Museum’s bluebell expert, Fred Rumsey, there's something for everyone!

The project is part of our Nature Counts initiative, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which aims to promote citizen science by training, educating, guiding and inspiring more people to record wildlife sightings around Sheffield.

Sara Blackburn, Project Coordinator for Nature Counts, said:

“A bluebell carpet in an ancient woodland is one of the most wonderful sights of the British countryside. We want people to get out there and not only enjoy them but help us ensure that they are around for future generations.

“Our True Bluebells project aims to identify areas of Sheffield where Spanish bluebells and their hybrids post a threat to our delicate natives, particularly in Sheffield's valuable ancient woodland habitats. Anyone can take part and through the power of citizen science we can all help protect Sheffield's native bluebells for years to come!”

For more information, including where to spot bluebells, what to look out for (including the bluebell ID guide), how to submit your findings and our special programme of bluebell events, please click here.

What else can you do to protect native bluebells?

  • Buy British: if you're planting new bluebells in your garden, make sure that they are of the native variety. Be careful – some bulbs are incorrectly labelled. If possible, ask for advice or check the country of origin – bulbs coming from Europe are most likely Spanish plants.
  • Get rid of invasives: if you do have Spanish bluebells in your garden, why not replace them with native British bluebells? They're perfect for bees and butterflies and carry a wonderful scent that the Spanish bluebells lack.
  • Compost carefully: if you do uproot Spanish plants, it's essential that you dispose of them carefully. Dig up the whole plant, including the bulb and leaves, and leave it to dry out. Don't throw it in the green waste bin as this could allow the plants to spread to other areas. Instead, tie them in a black plastic bag and leave them for a year to rot down.
  • Join Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust: conservation work carried out by the Trust at nature reserves such as Crabtree Ponds over the last few years has seen native bluebells thrive. Help maintain Sheffield and Rotherham's green spaces – from street trees to ancient woodlands – by joining Sheffield and Rotherham's community of wildlife lovers. Click here to join now.

Did you know?

  • Bluebells are protected by law by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 – with a hefty £5,000 fine for digging up native bluebells.
  • According to Plantlife, sightings of Spanish bluebells have increased by 52 per cent in the past 15 years, and those of hybrid bluebells have risen by 55 per cent, with many sightings found in urban areas like Sheffield and Rotherham.
  • The unique supply of light and damp of healthy woodland allows native bluebells to flower for a fleeting month usually between late-April and late-May.
  • Native bluebells take at least five years to grow from seed to bulb and typically take 35 years to spread just 50 metres.