How your Instagram photos are killing off the bluebells

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Bluebell Season, a truly magnificent sight to see at least once in your life and the smell is just incredible on a warm day - unless you suffer from hay-fever like me!
But before you read on and I explain why I'm writing about this wonderful flower,  I want to ask you a question:

You and your friend are walking through the woods which is covered with a sea of bluebells as far as the eye can see. 
For that perfect blogger photo, you want a picture of you in the bluebells, do you: 

A) You come off the path and walk through the flowers until you come across a log, you get your friend to take some photos. This will look great on Instagram!

B) You stand on the thin path while your friend stands behind you to take the photo. One of those, follow me down the path photos you see on the traveller blogs.

C) You see about two foot in that there's a patch of flowers that have been disturbed, you decide to go over and lie in them. The flowers surrounding are still standing, so this will be perfect!

Which one did you go for?
If you went for A or C, then did you know that you would be contributing towards the decline of the native bluebell and you're actually killing the protected spring bloom?

There are two types of bluebells, the English which is a native species and the non-native, evasive Spanish.
You can tell the difference with the below picture. While the English has a droopy stalk because the flowers form on one side, the Spanish stalk is a lot firmer and stands tall with flowers covering all areas.

Source of photo

Each year hundreds, if not thousands of people descend on their local woods to visit the blue carpet that appears for a short period of time. If you haven't experienced this, I would highly recommend going and you can find a link to the best bluebell walks at the bottom of this post.

English Bluebells

One of the most important jobs of the English Bluebell is that they, along with other flowers are a good indicator of where ancient woodland stands. However, due to the increase of the Spanish Bluebells invading the English and to the amount of people standing on them this indicator is dwindling and soon will vanish in years to come, despite the English Bluebell being a protective species.
I'm afraid that some people think that even if it is a second that they are standing on the flower, that no permanent damage is caused, but they're wrong.

Unfortunately the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 only protects the bluebells from people digging them up with the idea to sell and not from people choosing to walk, sit, lie or even pick them.

So why are you making such a big song and dance about it?

Because once a bluebell is damaged, including its leaves the bluebell will struggle to grow back. Even research studies have shown at Moulton College, that once damaged the flowers will need around five years to recover as long as they are not continually damaged. Around 96% of bluebells are damaged from trampling and it stops the species from spreading their seeds and ruining a habitat.

The below photo has been taken from the Heartwood Forest Blog which is updated by the volunteers. Owned by the Woodland Trust, Heartwood Forest can be found on the outskirts of St. Albans and is a mixture of newly planted woodland and pockets of ancient woodland. Every year, those areas of ancient woodland are covered in bluebells, mainly the native English.

The below photo is just one of the few paths that have been set in Heartwood, a nice narrow path that winds further in. The second photo is a photo of a different path which is a lot wider but would have been a narrow path a few years previous.

Over the years, the increased amount of people standing on the edge of the path for just a second has resulted in the path getting wider and wider. As you can see, ropes have been installed to stop any further damage occur.

A narrow path through the woods
The result of many years of damage, the path widens

People still feel the need to make their own paths (the browning of dead leaves) despite a rope stopping them.

If left to their own, the bluebells will be visible for all future generations

A path which has been made over time. This would have been covered in bluebells.

The next two photos were taken from the Heartwood Forest Blog and is evidence what trampling can do to the woodland grown. Even after two years of recovery by stopping visitors walking this route, the ground is still full of great leaves and not the purple flower as the bulbs are still recovering from damage and will need more time.

Heartwood Forest Blog

Every year Woodland Trust volunteers take shifts, come rain or shine, throughout the Bluebell Season to speak to visitors and educate them into how and why we should preserve them. This is called SOB or Save Our Bluebells campaign.  If people continue to trample on them, the bluebells will continue to deteriorate and eventually disappear all together.  This is an English beauty that we should be saving.

Wow, I didn't realise any of this. Is there anything I can do?

Yes, carry on visiting the woods and take your photos but stick to the paths that are already set, don't make your own. 

As much as the photos of bloggers, models, children and dogs are lovely all I ask along with many others, is to leave only footprints on the paths provided and don't stray.

If you find a log within the bluebells and also a log that's on the edge of the path, chose the latter. It has probably been put there for that very reason, a photo opportunity.

If you are walking dogs through the woods make sure they stick on the path too or put them back on the lead until the bluebells are gone.

Recently I've also seen photos of horse riders taking their horses through the bluebells, this will equally damage them more! Again, stick to the paths.

If you see someone doing something they shouldn't don't hurl abuse, just politely inform them that what they are doing is actually damaging the woodland floor and they should stick to the paths. Remember, not everyone is aware of how delicate and short numbered these flowers are. 

Finally, Bluebells are actually poisonous to humans and animals if eaten and also cause a skin irritation to some, so I really wouldn't recommend lying in them.

Remember, if we keep damaging the bluebells year by year, they will disappear.

Each year, the Woodland Trust hold a Bluebell watch on their website, this is a place to record where you have spotted the Native and Non Native species. Join in with the Bluebell watch and find out more on Bluebells

Looking for a bluebell woodland walk near you? Check out this link here.

**If you enjoyed reading or learnt something new, please do share this post. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram anyway to raise awareness. **

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