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Dales ramblers help map Britain's bluebells

[Wednesday 18 April 2007]
bluebells at bolton abbey
Bluebells at Bolton Abbey

RAMBLERS and nature enthusiasts in the Yorkshire Dales are being urged to join their peers across the UK and help identify bluebells this spring as part of a Natural History Museum project to find out how climate change and hybrids are affecting Britain's favourite wild flower.

The Natural History Museum, working in partnership with the Ramblers Association and Plantlife, is hoping the public will help scientists build a clearer picture of the bluebell in Britain by taking part in an online survey - eagle eyed spotters in the Yorkshire Dales could make a significant contribution due to the abundance of the plant across our area.

The findings will not only inform scientists of the extent of our native bluebell population; it will also help them to understand whether our bluebell woods are under threat from Spanish and hybrid counterparts.

There are two species of bluebell in Britain - the familiar native bluebell or wild hyacinth (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and the cultivated Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica). But a recent survey by wild plant conservation charity Plantlife showed that our native species is combining with cultivated bluebells, creating a third hybrid type. This 'hybridisation' can alter the genetic make up of native plants and make it harder for them to survive.

Climate change may also affect the future of our native bluebells. Early growth and flowering gives bluebells a head start over later developing plants, but warmer winters may mean they are losing their advantage as other plants start growing earlier.

Mariusz Wilczynski, membership development officer for the Ramblers' Association, said: "Bluebells bring joy to walkers everywhere in springtime, bursting into life in woodlands and hedgerows. Now as well as enjoying the sight of this lovely flower in the countryside, we can help scientists understand how they are responding to a changing environment. We urge everyone out walking this spring to look out for bluebells and take part in the Natural History Museum's online survey."

The Natural History Museum's web-based survey, called Bluebells: Exploring British Wildlife, provides an online identification guide and simple forms to record sightings.

The survey will be ongoing and it is hoped people will take part each spring, helping scientists monitor and understand what is happening to bluebells in response to changes to their environment.

For more information on the survey and details of how to take part visit www.nhm.ac.uk

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