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Bluebells at Ashridge Estate

Close-up of bluebells at Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire
Bluebells at Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire | © National Trust Images/Justin Minns

Ashridge Estate sees large areas of bluebells flowering each year which attracts large numbers of visitors. With the flowering window being short over April and May, this creates great pressure on the woodland and its flora during this period.

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Looking after bluebells at Ashridge Estate

Our Countryside Manager tells us why bluebells are so special and how you can help look after these delicate woodland flowers.

What's so special about bluebells?

The presence of bluebells is a sign that a woodland is ancient and has been present in the landscape for at least 400 years. Bluebells, and other woodland flowers, don't spread to new areas easily or quickly, so it is vital to protect them.

Woodland flowers like bluebells come out in spring. This means that they are able to make the most of the available light before the leaves appear on the trees and start to cast too much shade. Bluebells are also an important source of pollen and nectar for butterflies, bees, and hoverflies at the start of the season.

Our Management of the bluebells

Damage to footpaths in winter

Our feet can do more damage that we think. The clay soils and wet winters at Ashridge have resulted in very wet paths during the winter months. Whilst these paths are wet and muddy, visitors, understandably don’t want to wade through deep mud so walk along the drier edge or create alternative routes. This widens existing paths or creates new paths which can quickly widen with use. During the winter it is easy to miss the damage that this causes to woodland flowers beneath the surface. Increased footfall on these new paths or widening edges causes compaction of the ground and damage to bluebell bulbs under the surface.

Look out for badgers

Many of our resident badgers have created trails across the estate which can sometimes be mistaken for visitor paths. These look like small narrow paths that criss cross through the bluebells. Please do not be tempted to use them and continue to stick to the main paths.

a black and white badger sign with "badgers only thank you" written on it sitting in front of a small path in a woodland
Badger signs at Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire | © National Trust/Alex Green

Responsible viewing of bluebells

The plants will start to flower in mid-April and are normally at their best during the last week of April and first week of May. Bluebell season is very busy at Ashridge Estate, and we advise visitors to visit off peak where possible.

A sea of bluebells can be an irresistible sight and it may be tempting to step into the sea of blue for a photo opportunity. However, you can get just as good a shot by keeping your feet on the footpath. The delicate soft leaves of bluebells are easily damaged, and this stops them from being able to photosynthesize meaning they die back. In turn, this means they can’t put food back into their bulbs, reducing their ability to produce flowers and seeds. Watch your step and the bluebells will continue to flower for years to come.

As tempting as it may be, bluebells are a protected species, and it is against the law to pick them as well as uproot or intentionally destroy them. If you want to take a bluebell souvenir home with you, please visit the shop instead. It stocks a wide variety of products including bluebell scented candles, porcelain, mugs, cards, and magnets.

Keep dogs on a lead

Please keep dogs on a lead while enjoying the bluebells. Not only can dogs running through the flowers cause damage, but all parts of the bluebell plant contain toxic glycosides that are poisonous.

You can help to look after bluebells for many years to come by:

  • Following directional signage at all times
  • Sticking to main paths
  • Not allowing dogs or children to run into the bluebells
  • Taking photos from paths or designated photography spots only
  • Not picking bluebell flowers

Bluebells are very slow to reproduce, and it can take around seven years for them to recover from damage.

Bluebells in Dockey Wood, Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire
Bluebells in Dockey Wood, Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire | © National Trust/Peter Greenaway

Dockey Wood

Dockey Wood is the best place to view bluebells on Ashridge Estate and we are actively managing this area for visitors. We have installed low level fencing around some of the visitor routes and created spots for you to take photos.

Recent forestry works to improve the health of the woodland resulted in more light reaching the floor which allowed brambles to grow vigorously. This is a natural process, and the brambles will die off naturally as the canopy spreads blocking out the light again. However, to speed up this process we experimented with clearing some brambles in 2021 to see if this could be done without damaging the bluebells. Early signs show it has been successful and we will continue this work over coming years to improve the experience of Dockey Wood.

How to get to Dockey Wood?

The car park at Dockey Wood is very small with space for only 40 cars and can get extremely muddy when wet. Do not park along the roadside as this can be dangerous and block access for emergency vehicles. We recommend parking at the Visitor Centre on Monument Drive and walking along the waymarked route to Dockey Wood. The route is approximately 1.6 miles long and will take the average person 40 minutes.

How much to visit Dockey Wood?

We will be charging visitors a small entry fee of £3.50 per adult and £1.50 per child (free for National Trust members) over the following weekends:

  • 27 to 28 April
  • 4 to 6 May
  • 11 to 12 May

All income from these weekends will go directly back into caring for the Ashridge Estate

A wooden post with a purple disc on it saying Dockey Wood bluebell walk
Waymarked route to Dockey Wood, Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire | © National Trust/Ella-Louise Wood

Ashridge Estate - Protecting Our Roots 

We are looking at making changes to the infrastructure across the estate to help manage the careful balance of increased visitor numbers with the impact on nature. Read about the 'Protecting Our Roots' project and find out more about our vision for the future of Ashridge Estate.

Bluebells at sunrise in the Great Wood at Blickling Estate, Norfolk

How we care for bluebells 

Find out how we work to look after the UK’s bluebell population and what you can do to help us protect this much-loved wild flower.

Bluebells in May at Blickling Estate, Norfolk

How to grow bluebells in your own garden 

The bluebell is one of the nation's favourite wild flowers and our gardeners take great care of these plants at many of the places we look after. Discover some of their top tips for growing bluebells in your garden.

A close up of some bluebells in the rain

A guide to bluebells in the UK 

Discover how the native British bluebell differs from the Spanish variety, and find out how this wild flower has been used in medicines and inspired storytellers for centuries.

Family walking a dog at Ashridge Estate, hertfordshire

Visiting Ashridge with your dog 

Ashridge is a two pawprint rated place with over 80 miles of pathways. Find out more here.