Hazy bluebell days

Swathes of delicate bluebells adorn the woodland floor

A hazy violet carpet in the dappled shade of ancient woodlands is a common sight in late spring. The bluebell is one of our best-loved British flowers. Learn more about this delicate wildflower and how we can all play a part in looking after this species...

Wild native bluebells

Many of our staff and volunteers play a vital role in looking after the UK’s bluebell population, but we couldn’t do it without your support. A quarter of our woodland is ancient or semi-natural; the ideal habitats for bluebells to flourish.

Wild native bluebells like moisture in the winter and shade in summer. They can also grow in hedgerows and park or grassland, often following the line of an old hedge or where trees once stood. 

When you see them each year, faithfully pushing through the old leaf layers 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. 

Bluebells are woodland plants, so they grow best best in partial shade with moist but well-drained soil
Bluebells are woodland plants, so they grow best best in partial shade with moist but well-drained soil.
Bluebells are woodland plants, so they grow best best in partial shade with moist but well-drained soil

How you can play a part in looking after bluebells

To most of us, however, a gorgeous spread of bluebells is an irresistible sight in spring. To show our appreciation, it’s the most tempting thing in the world 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. 

Bees, butterflies and hoverflies are all attracted to bluebells - the striking blue and purple colours stand out, making them easy to spot for these pollinators
Bees, butterflies and hoverflies are all attracted to bluebells - the striking blue and purple colours stand out, making them easy to spot for these pollinators.
Bees, butterflies and hoverflies are all attracted to bluebells - the striking blue and purple colours stand out, making them easy to spot for these pollinators

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.

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. 

Bees are an important pollinator and they love bluebells
Bees are an important pollinator and they love bluebells
Bees are an important pollinator and they love bluebells

Enjoy them with respect

This is not to say that we should stay away. Far from it. Bluebells are an important and essential part of our natural heritage, a welcome sign that spring is well under way and the warmer days of summer are not far off. As long as we treat them with respect, we’ll be able to enjoy our blue woodlands for many years to come. Look out for bluebells in late April if you happen to be exploring Haywood or Jubilee Woods in the Longshaw Estate. Be sure to tread with care to keep this delicate and precious wildflower safe and thriving - thank you.