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National Trust News: Early Bluebells

Stephen Field announces that experts at the National Trust are predicting an early and fantastic display of bluebells this year following the mild and dry start to 2011.

After an exceptionally cold December, the coldest for more than a century, bluebells are beginning to bloom a couple of weeks earlier than usual following the mildest February in nearly a decade and the driest March for 40 years that had higher than average sunshine levels.

In 2010 bluebells were emerging up to three weeks late in some parts of the country – the latest for fifteen years - after the coldest winter for more than 30 years.

Matthew Oates, a Naturalist for the National Trust, said: “An absence of frost in the mild February and March months sped up the flowering process of the bluebell, though a bit of rain will speed them up further.

“The bluebell starts growing in January with its sole purpose to flower before the other woodland plants which have this year stalled because of the dry weather. This means that the bluebell is relatively free from competition and attracts the early spring pollinators.

“Easter weekend looks set to be the peak time to see bluebells in the south of England but this will vary depending on aspect. Further north, on high ground and on north-facing slopes the flowering will be later.”

To help keep people posted about when bluebells look their best the National Trust is setting up the first ever interactive Bluebell Watch map at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bluebellwatch.

Normally bluebells peak in a Mexican wave affect across the country starting in the south west fanning out across the UK but in recent years have become more patchy and dependent on their location.

Bluebells depend on warm ground temperatures to help them grow and are normally, but not exclusively, found in old woodland, thick old hedges and on bracken-covered hillsides.

Ian Wright, Gardens Adviser at the National Trust, said: “Bluebells are true heralds of spring and are a key part of our natural heritage and those winter blues seem to melt away when bluebells are mentioned.

“The Bluebell Watch map will help us build up a clearer picture in real time of how bluebells are spreading across the country and will be a useful tool for anyone wanting to see these majestic carpets of blue stretching off into the distance.”

The National Trust is one of the most important organisations in the UK for bluebells as a quarter of the Trust's woodland is ancient or semi-natural; the ideal habitats for bluebells to flourish.

The National Trust has also teamed up with the Woodland Trust, along with other environmental groups, to develop the UK's first woodland website, VisitWoods.org.uk. On this, 14,000 publicly accessible woods are mapped and, during April and May visitors can find their nearest bluebell wood by typing in their postcode and clicking the bluebell symbol. In this way they will be able to keep an even closer eye on when bluebells start appearing.

Wildlife broadcaster Simon King said, "Walking in the woods when bluebells are out has to be one of life's most pleasurable experiences and now anyone can find their nearest bluebell wood by using VisitWoods.org.uk. Living down in Somerset we tend to get bluebells quite early on and I always make time to visit with my family."

Half of the world's population of bluebells can be found in the UK. UK bluebells are currently at risk of disappearing as a result of hybridizing with the scentless non-native Spanish bluebell which were often planted in gardens.


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