The bluebells are back in the woods of Stansted – laying a thick carpet under the mature trees that is surely one of the greatest wildlife sights of England. With the sun streaming through the trees, birdsong in the air, and bees buzzing from bell to bell, you can rest assured that our wet winter is now behind us. They should be at their peak over the next weekend or two.
Bluebells form where the summer tree canopy is so thick that other plants find it difficult to grow – typically only ancient woodland (from the 17th Century or earlier). The bluebells come out just before the tree leaves start opening out, so you get a spectacular dappled light. Their rich nectar provides food for early butterflies such as the Yellow Brimstone. This year the bluebells are out a month earlier than usual – although we first saw the green shoots appear before Christmas so they have held back a bit.
Bluebell sap is sticky and was traditionally used to bind feathers to arrow shafts, as well as book binding. However, the sap (as with the rest of the bluebell) contains toxic glycosides that can cause dermatitis, so NO PICKING as it is also against the law. In the UK, Hyacinthoides non-scripta is protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) which prohibits landowners from removing bluebells from their land for sale, and prohibits anyone from digging up bulbs from the countryside.