Why is hybridisation a problem?
Native bluebells hybridise easily with Spanish bluebells. This dilutes their unique characteristics, changing future generations forever.
Within an urban environment, Spanish bluebells are not a conservation problem. However, if Spanish bluebells or their aggressive hybrids infiltrate ancient woodlands, they can quickly outcompete and hybridise with the native bluebells that may have stood for centuries.
Hybridisation dilutes or eliminates the unique characteristics of native bluebells and permanently changes their genetic makeup. Cross-breeding can occur if gardens are particularly close to woodlands, or if garden waste is dumped within woodland habitats.
According to Plantlife, sightings of Spanish bluebells have increased by 52 percent in the past 15 years, and those of hybrid bluebells have risen by 55 percent. Many sightings are found in urban areas such as Sheffield and Rotherham.
Our True Bluebells project aimed 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.
True Bluebells was part of Nature Counts – supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.
What can I do to help?
Whilst our project has now ended, we’re still interested in mapping the spread of Spanish bluebells and their hybrids. This will allow us to direct our conservation efforts to protect important native bluebell populations.
Map your bluebell
To map your bluebell, simply follow the steps below:
1. Visit your local woodland
The best time to do this is in April-May when bluebells will be in flower. If you see bluebells, that’s brilliant! The next step is to find out what they are and to tell us about it. For a great list of local ancient woodlands where you’re likely to see bluebells, click here.
2. Study our bluebell ID guide
3. Take a close-up photograph of newly-opened flowers
Focus on individual flower spikes that have just opened. Older flower spikes may lack important identification details. We need to see how the flowers are arranged around the stem, the pollen colour, and how curled the individual petals are. If you see different kinds of bluebells in the same place, please record these as different sightings and tell us about all of them. This is particularly important as it helps us identify areas where native bluebells are particularly at risk.
4. Send us your bluebell photograph and sighting details
You can simply email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your photograph and some simple details about what you have seen and where. Again, if you see different kinds of bluebells within the same area, please tell us, and if you can, submit multiple sightings and photographs.
What else can I do?
You can also help protect our native bluebells by gardening wisely.
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 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.
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.