Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

If you go down to the woods today you're sure of a... bluebell surprise

Bluebells in bloom after a spring shower
Bluebells in bloom after a spring shower

Crpets of bluebells could be blossoming across Northern Ireland in time for the May bank holiday weekend.

That's the prediction from the Woodland Trust, which says our native bluebells are blooming earlier than ever this spring.

Bluebells were even reported flowering in early April in some parts of Co Down – and the trust is forecasting that carpets in woodlands will peak in time for the May bank holiday.

A quintessential sign of spring, bluebells are often found in ancient woodland – one of our rarest and most precious wildlife habitats.

Long-term botanical records show that native bluebell flowering dates have advanced by five days in the last 50 years, while other spring species have been flowering up to 12 days earlier over the last 25 years.

The records are in line with predicted climate change trends, which the trust has highlighted as one of the greatest long-term threats to ancient woodland.

Patrick Cregg, director of the Woodland Trust in Northern Ireland, said: "Last year was an exception, with the harsh spring resulting in bluebells being over a month late.

"This spring has been kinder and we've already started to see that welcome glimmer of blue. We've had some early reports of bluebells, with the first recorded on April 8 in Co Down.

"And now that spring is unfolding right across the country, this really is the perfect time to get out and about and enjoy your nearest woodland."

The first sightings of flowering bluebells this spring were at Warrenpoint on April 8 and Banbridge on April 11. Some of the most spectacular displays can be seen at Prehen Wood, on the edge of Londonderry; Drumlamph Wood near Maghera in south Derry, or Carnmoney Hill in Newtownabbey.

Bluebells are one of the UK's most popular native wildflowers, with up to 50% of the world population found here.

They are important early flowers for bees, hoverflies and butterflies, which feed on the nectar. However, bees are able to 'steal' nectar from bluebells by biting a hole in the bottom of the bell, allowing them to reach the nectar without pollinating the flower.

Meanwhile, legend says that a field of bluebells is intricately woven with fairy enchantments. Bronze age warriors used bluebell glue to attach feathers to their arrows, while the Victorians used starch from crushed bluebells to stiffen their collars and sleeves.

The Woodland Trust is calling for local people to record sightings of flowering bluebells and other seasonal beauties as part of its UK-wide Nature's Calendar survey.

Records from Northern Ireland are particularly scarce, and your observations will help show how climate change is affecting wildlife throughout the UK.

To find out more, log on to www.naturescalendar.org.uk

FACTFILE

A woodland carpeted in masses of bluebells is one of our most evocative sights in springtime.

This spectacular botanical display is only found in northern Europe, with Britain hosting more than half of the world's population. Common bluebells are a protected species in the UK.

The main threats to their survival are people picking the flowers and illegally digging up the bulbs. Hybrid bluebell species, a result of crossing with the Spanish bluebell, also pose a major threat to the traditional flower.

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