Suffolk: Native bluebells threatened by Spanish invader

Bluebells in Bradfield Woods, in Bradfield St George.

Bluebells in Bradfield Woods, in Bradfield St George. - Credit: Archant

FOR centuries the blanket of intense blue flowers has been a source of wonder for spring time walkers.

But the bluebell’s occupation of Suffolk’s woodlands is under threat from a Spanish invader that is less colourful, less prolific and lacks the distinctive scent of the native plant.

Experts claim inter-breeding between the two varieties could squeeze out native bluebells from its traditional habitat, as the resulting hybrids tend to be vigorous and can quickly take hold in forests.

The Forestry Commission has already said it is taking action to dig up and dispose of non-native plants on some of its sites amid fears that traditional bluebell woods could become increasingly rare over the next two decades. Hybrids are already established on prominent Suffolk sites, including the National Trust’s Ickworth estate.

Matthew Oates, a naturalist for the charity said Spanish bluebells were being looked at closely, but not destroyed.

He added: “We don’t have a policy on Spanish Bluebells but non-native invasive species are identified as a major issue in our Nature Conservation Strategy. We’ve been very active eliminating invasive plants like Rhododendron ponticum, Japanese Knotweed & Himalayan Balsam, usually at landscape scale and in partnership with other land owners. We do, though, need to recognise lost cause situations where removal is impractical. We are looking at Spanish Bluebells closely, and certainly want to alert people to the danger of dumping unwanted bulbs in woodland car parks.

“We don’t want our bluebells turning scentless and a wishy-washy blue.”

Most Read

Mr Oates said: “The problem with hybridisation is that so many plants are introduced into gardens and then either escape or behave like thugs.”

Julian Roughton, chief executive of Suffolk Wildlife Trust (SWT) said the issue was a concern, but claimed it would take a “massive national effort” to stop hybridisation.

Mr Roughton, who encouraged gardeners to always choose native bluebell bulbs, said that a number of SWT sites still have strong and relatively isolated populations of the native plant. Reserves at Captain’s Wood near Orford, Arger Fen near Assington, Bradfield Woods near Bury St Edmunds and Bonny and Groton Wood near Stowmarket are all expected to have hundreds of British bluebells flowering in the coming weeks.

Native bluebells can be distinguished by their dark blue, scented flowers that grow from only one side of their curved stems.