Alien Bluebells

When I gave the Bristol University Convocation Lecture last week, my friends to took me for a walk in Leigh Woods Nature Reserve near Bristol. What a stunning sight it was to see the floor of the wood covered in bluebells.

Bluebells in Leigh Woods.  Photo from www.abbotsleigh.org.uk

Bluebells in Leigh Woods. Photo from http://www.abbotsleigh.org.uk

The common bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta ) is often associated with ancient woodland where it may produce carpets of violet–blue flowers in the month of May. The bluebell is particularly prevalent in the UK, where it is a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Landowners are prohibited from removing common bluebells on their land for sale and it is a criminal offence to remove the bulbs of wild common bluebell.

Bluebells in Leigh Woods.  Photo from avonbirding.blogspot.com

Bluebells in Leigh Woods. Photo from avonbirding.blogspot.com

A recent report in the Guardian talks about the risk to the native bluebell flower and its battle with an alien invasive species, Hyacinthoides hispanica, or the Spanish bluebell. The Spanish bluebell has cross-pollinated with the native flower to produce an extremely aggressive hybrid which is spreading rapidly and is taking over the native bluebell patches.

This story turned out to be very timely, as I talked about the increasing risk of Invasive Alien Species and the plans to introduce EU legislation during my lecture. I highlighted the problems we have with floating pennywort, Japanese knotweed and zebra mussels, but I had no idea that the bluebell is also threatened by an imposter!

Why are we worried about this threat? One reason is the cost! The Brussels-based Institute for European Environmental Policy estimates that management and control measures of Invasive Alien Species in Europe amounts to at least 12 billion Euro per year, but it could be a lot more. That is a significant amount of money which could have been used for better purposes if we had tackled the issue earlier.

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