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Bluebells have arrived!

by Rose Crompton

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credit: WTPL/Richard Becker

A mild winter encouraged many plants to flower early this year and now an unusually warm March has got bluebells blooming too.

Although these woodland favourites usually flower in April or May, they have already been spotted bursting into bloom in city parks and copses.

In 2011, the average flowering date for bluebells was April 12th, which coincided with the earliest spring recorded this century. But over 50 sightings of the flowers have already been reported to the Woodland Trust this month – almost twice as many as at the same time last year.

“Bluebells have been spotted in Bristol, Leicester and London. Some well-known locations in these regions to see bluebells are: Beacon Hill Country Park or The National Forest – Jaguar Lount Wood in Leicestershire; Richmond Park or Hampstead Heath in London and Weston Big Wood in Somerset,” said VisitWoods project manager, Gayle Wharton.

The Woodland Trust is now calling on the public to visit their nearest wood to help record the appearance of native bluebells across the country.

Bluebells can also provide evidence of climate change as they generally flower in response to warmer soil and air temperatures. The Natural History Museum has been running its Bluebell Survey since 2006 and they are asking the public to send in their sightings of flowering bluebells again this year.

“The Bluebell Survey started initially as research into the spread of the Spanish bluebell and the effect it was having on our native British bluebell,” explains Dr. Fred Rumsey, Enquiries Officer at the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity.

“However, we’re now looking to build up a bank of long-running data as this can show changes in our climate. A study was carried out in the Mediterranean where scientists monitored the flowering time of the early spider orchid and they found that for every one degree centigrade increase in temperature, there was a shift of about six days in the plant’s flowering time. We also know that the orchid now blooms a full three weeks earlier than it did 200 years ago. We’re hoping to build up enough data through the bluebell survey to show that the same thing is happening in the UK. We encourage the public to keep a look out for bluebells in their area and then to report their sightings to us so we can add it all to the research,” says Rumsey.

The National Trust is also running its interactive Bluebell Watch map again this year, which shows in real time where the flowers are starting to bloom across the country. To post a sighting on the Bluebell Watch map, tweet the location’s postcode, and a picture if available, with the tag #bluebellwatch.

To record sightings in the Woodland Trust’s database, visit www.naturescalendar.org.uk. There’s also a searchable list of bluebell woods at www.VisitWoods.org.uk/bluebells. Information on the Natural History Museum’s Bluebell Survey can be found at www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/british-natural-history/survey-bluebells while you can find the National Trust’s map here.

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