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April Star Species: Bluebells

When bluebells carpet the forest we know that spring is established and summer is on its way. David Read, Forest Ranger at Blackwood Forest, where the bluebells are spectacular, tells us why they are his Star Species.

“Half the world’s bluebells are here in the UK. That is perhaps why we have taken them into our hearts and love them so much. Increasingly people are seeking out bluebell woods to marvel at the lush carpet of deepest blue that briefly covers the forest floor in April and May. 

But it wasn't always like this and bluebells have a surprising ally in their fight for survival…

Man - bluebells' best friend?

In a good news story about human intervention in nature, British bluebells have humans to thank for their survival. Bluebells were rare jewels in our dense ancient woodlands but when humans first started to cut down trees we inadvertently created the ideal conditions for bluebells to thrive.

Tree-felling thinned the canopy, allowing more sunlight to penetrate deep into forests during spring. This created the perfect conditions of light and shade for bluebells to flourish and they colonised forests, making the most of the spring sunlight before the trees burst into summer leaf.

Protecting & encouraging bluebells

The ongoing management of forests – coppicing, managing invasive species, and affording bluebells protected status – means that bluebells have continued to delight generation after generation. A few years of neglect is all it would take to reverse this.

Without this intervention, at first accidental and then quite deliberate, our native bluebells may have disappeared altogether. It is popular to think of nature as threatened by our every activity and stronger if only we’d leave it alone, but it is important to understand that we are part of nature ourselves and we can, and do, work hard across many organisations and bodies to protect and nurture the fragile ecosystem.

At Forest Holidays, we are proud to play our part in the conservation effort and we contribute over £2m per year to the Forestry Commission to manage the nation’s forests. We also work with experts on the ground to manage and enhance the forest areas in which we are privileged to be located.

Early bluebells at Blackwood Forest

The happy relationship between humans and bluebells is nowhere more evident than here at Blackwood Forest. The glossy green leaves of our bluebells normally appear from the middle of March. Most years, by mid-April they are opening their intense cobalt flowers and capturing the sun through the dappled canopy of the tall beech trees. This year they are about 2 weeks early, owing to our mild winter, and the carpet of blue is already starting to show in areas of the forest. 

The woodland at Blackwood Forest is carefully managed, with trees being thinned out periodically to allow others chance to strengthen and grow. This allows more light through to the forest floor and in this dappled shade the bluebells thrive, bringing visitors to the woods every spring to witness their beauty.

As Forest Ranger I educate guests about conservation and what they can do to help. I also participate in many environmental projects from species surveys to habitat management. I feel very much like a guardian of this small part of the natural world, and like you, I want to see that heart-stirring carpet of bluebells return every spring for evermore.

More about Bluebells

You can find out more about bluebells in another post I wrote, explaining how they are adapted to forest conditions and the surprising uses to which they have been put in days gone by. 

To see the bluebells in all their glory come to Blackwood Forest soon. I saw my first bluebell on 10 March and because they are early this year, time is of the essence. You can simply come for a walk in the woods or treat yourself to a few days in one of our fabulous cabins and go for bluebell walks every day.

I look forward to seeing you, and answering all your bluebell questions. I'm off now to see how many friends my lonely bluebell has gained.”

*Photo taken by David of our first bluebell, spotted on 10 March.