Protecting the bluebells at Ashridge

Bluebells and new beech leaves at Ashridge Herts

Ashridge is one of the most popular places in the country for seeing bluebells, with thousands of people coming from far and wide to enjoy the spectacular carpets of flowers each spring. Our dilemma is protecting the plants without spoiling visitor experience, which is why we apply a small charge at the busiest times.

Bluebells at Ashridge

Continuing to protect Dockey Wood

For the past two years we have introduced charging for entrance to this special wood at peak times during the bluebell season, which was well received by our many visitors so we will be doing it again this year.

The dates affected will be Sat 28 & Sun 29 of April, Sat 5, Sun 6 and Mon 7 May. The charges of £3 per adult and £1 per child will only apply between 10 am and 4 pm - all other times entrance will be free.

This small charge we make will contribute to the costs of protecting the bluebells and hopefully spread visitors more evenly throughout the season. National Trust members will not be charged.

There are also a number of routes across the wider estate, including the Old Copse Walk which also have beautiful displays of blue flowers. A bluebell walks guide is available from the Visitor Centre for £1 and highlights a number of family-friendly walks. The shop is selling a variety of bluebell related gifts, including locally made bluebell scented candles and diffusers.

Keeping to the footpaths in Dockey Wood
Walkers amongst the bluebells
Keeping to the footpaths in Dockey Wood

Last year we had rangers on-site at peak times to talk to visitors about our work and how we take care of this special place; they will be there again this year.

How you can play a part in looking after bluebells

To most of us a gorgeous spread of bluebells is an irresistible sight in spring. It’s the most tempting thing in the world to want to step into the blue for a photo opportunity, however, your feet could be doing more damage than you realise. 

Bluebells have soft, succulent leaves that are particularly sensitive to being trodden on. Once the leaves are damaged, they are unable to absorb the sun and photosynthesise so they die back. In turn, this means they can’t put food back into their bulbs, reducing their ability to produce flowers and seeds.

You see it in popular bluebell woods where narrow tracks made by one person soon become wider and the bluebells end up in island-like patches instead of the blue carpet we all love. 

Another reason to stick to designated paths in bluebell woods is that the bulbs become damaged when the soil is compacted from the weight of footfall.

This is what happens when people don't stick to the paths
Trampled bluebells at Ashridge Herts
This is what happens when people don't stick to the paths

The situation has become so critical in the most popular bluebell areas that in some places we've had to take decisive measures to control the numbers of people and where they walk, simply to preserve the flowers so that future generations can enjoy them. 

Native bluebells are fragile

When you see them each year, faithfully pushing through the old leaf litter on sturdy stalks in their hundreds, it’s hard to believe they’re actually a fragile flower. They don’t like change or disturbance, preferring ancient woods where the ground has lain undisturbed for years. 

A beautiful English bluebell at Ashridge
English bluebells at Ashridge Herts
A beautiful English bluebell at Ashridge

Six things you might not know about bluebells

The National Trust is one of the most important organisations in the UK for bluebell conservation. A quarter of the Trust's woodland is ancient or semi-natural; the ideal habitats for bluebells. Here are six facts you may not know about them:

  1. The bluebell has many names: English bluebell, wild hyacinth, wood bell, bell bottle, Cuckoo’s Boots, Wood Hyacinth, Lady’s Nightcap and Witches’ Thimbles, Hyacinthoides non-scripta
  2. It is against the law to intentionally pick, uproot or destroy bluebells
  3. If you plant bluebells, you should make sure it's the English bluebell, not the Spanish version. This is a more vigorous plant and could out-compete our delicate native flower
  4. Almost half the world's bluebells are found in the UK, they’re relatively rare in the rest of the world
  5. Bluebell colonies take a long time to establish - around 5-7 years from seed to flower.
  6. Bluebells can take years to recover after footfall damage. If a bluebell’s leaves are crushed, they die back from lack of food as the leaves cannot photosynthesise. 

How much does joining the National Trust cost and where can I sign up?

Annual membership costs £69.00 (around £5.75 per month) and you can pop into the Ashridge Visitor Centre any day of the week between 10am and 5pm to find out more and get involved.