Probably the best known and loved of our woodland flowers, bluebells are widespread and relatively common throughout the UK.
However, almost half the world’s bluebells are found in the UK as they’re relatively rare in the rest of the world.
In most of southern England, they dominate large areas of ancient woodland. In the New Forest they also occur under areas of bracken, where the bracken acts like a woodland canopy. Many may not realise it is against the law to intentionally pick, uproot or destroy bluebells.
There are actually only a few woods in the New Forest where you will see swathes of bluebells, and these are in the drier, well-fenced inclosures. Elsewhere, in places open to commoners’ stock and wild deer, bluebells tend to occur only in small numbers. It is not the grazing but the trampling of the leaves by the animals’ hooves that reduces the bluebells’ ability to obtain the nutrients they need to sustain their underground bulbs through the long autumn and winter period.
The best place in the New Forest to see bluebells is Ivy Wood, just east of Brockenhurst along the B3055 towards Beaulieu. You will need to park in the car park and look a little way into the woods — they cannot be seen much from the roadside. Late April is usually the best time for them.
The Spanish bluebell is a non-native species that has escaped from cultivation and gardens and now hybridises with our bluebells. In some bluebell woodlands all the individuals are now hybrids and the concern is that our native bluebell could be threatened. Thankfully, this does not seem to be happening so much in the New Forest area. So if you are planting bluebells, ideally make sure it’s the English bluebell.