Bluebells

 

Although common in much of Britain, bluebell are rare in the rest of Europe and absent from the rest of the world, so we have an international responsibility to protect ours. That is why it is a priority species for Biodiversity Action Planning. Bluebells grow wild at several sites in Sheffield, but some of these are likely to be hybrids between native British bluebells and Spanish bluebells which have escaped from gardens; relatively few are likely to be genuinely native in origin.
Bluebell leaves are tough, deterring rabbits from eating them, although sheep and cattle grazing causes considerable harm.

A Bluebell by any other name

  Confusion can also arise from the various names, both English and Latin, used for the bluebell and the (unrelated) harebell, which, as it has similar flowers, is also sometimes called bluebell. The bluebell's alternative names include wild hyacinth, Crawtraes (meaning crow's toes), and Granfer Griggles. In 1597, John Gerard made the whole situation worse when he called it "Hyacinthus anglicus, Blew English Hare Bells." Despite scientific names being in a dead language for the purpose of keeping them constant, bluebells have so far been known by four different scientific names. The current scientific name is Hyacinthoides non-scripta (non-scripta, meaning unwritten, to distinguish it from the hyacinth of classical legend which grew from the dying prince Hyacinthus, and on which Apollo wrote "alas," to express his grief).
Bluebell shoots emerge from early January, before tree leaves block out much of the sunlight. When the flowers open in April and May, they carpet the woodland floor, making one of the most spectacularly beautiful sights of Spring. Although usually associated with deciduous woodlands, bluebells also grow in hedgerows, grassland, parkland and on cliffs, and frequently appear as garden escapees. Growing through Winter and flowering in Spring allows the bluebell to tolerate the extreme shading which excludes most other plants from these habitats. It can even grow under bracken and Japanese knotweed (an introduced pest species which chokes out almost everything else). However, in coniferous plantations, the all-year blocking of light, combined with the acidic litter layer, chokes out even bluebells, along with nearly all other ground flora. Deciduous woodlands left in a semi-natural state or managed in ways which benefit wildlife, such as coppicing, are good habitats for bluebells. Although bluebells usually require well-drained soil, some grow in wet woodland adjacent to the rivers.  
The biggest threats to bluebells is the destruction of woodlands in which they grow and gardeners who buy millions of bulbs, unsustainably taken from their natural habitats.
The bluebell has been a part of the British Isles throughout all of its recorded history and several traditional events are dedicated to it. Bluebell Walks are held annually at sites around Britain including Woolley Wood in Sheffield, and a Bluebell Service is held annually at Withland Wood in Leicestershire. Railway trips to see carpets of wild bluebells used to run at Ipsden in Oxfordshire, the Tenbury Railway in Worcestershire and in Sussex. Bluebells have also inspired generations of poets, including Robert Burns, John Clare and Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Unfortunately, landowners can legally sell the bulbs from their land and thieves take wild plants and bulbs to sell, causing the destruction of large swathes of bluebells and other wild flowers. People can make a difference by refusing to buy bulbs which are harvested from wild populations. See the Good Bulb Guide, published by Fauna and Flora International, for a list of companies which only sell sustainably cultivated bulbs.  
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Sheffield Wildlife Trust Biodiversity