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Islanders asked to keep on the path to protect bluebells

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Thursday 16 March 2023

Agriculture, Countryside and Land Management Services (ACLMS) is encouraging islanders to stay on the paths in Bluebell Wood to help native bluebells against the threat of non-native invaders.

Throughout the wood, bluebells are becoming less numerous and struggling to hold their own as the dominant white flowered Allium triquetrum, also known as three-cornered leek or stinking onions, continues to spread. It emerges early in the year, getting a head start on native plants such as bluebells and quickly outcompetes them. Once established it is very difficult to control.  

Bluebells are very sensitive to trampling and soil compaction at any time of year and damage to the new shoots and leaves prevents the recovery of the bulbs, reducing natural regeneration and flowering success the following year. Evidence on the ground suggests that where people stray from the path, the bluebells are less able to thrive. Where people walk into the area of bluebells, possibly to take photos, this unfortunately leads to walkways that encourages others to follow. This creates bare ground and introduces seed which accelerates the spread of the invasive Allium directly into new areas of bluebell so that in time these dominant groups of bluebells may well be lost.

The woodland is locally designated as a Site of Special Significance so ecological management must be carefully implemented to avoid making the situation worse. There is no guarantee that the bluebells can be saved from the advancing Allium. But doing nothing will inevitably lead to their gradual loss so it is hoped that making some small, measured interventions will, over time, give the bluebells a chance to recover. Several groups are also helping by trialling different approaches to support the bluebells.

As well as asking for help from islanders, ACLMS will be improving demarcation of the main pathways to reduce the likelihood of footpaths expanding, improving signage, accurately measuring the coverage of bluebells during the summer, and monitoring the light levels to inform possible future management.

Francis Russell, Invasive Non-Native Species Policy & Coordination Officer, said:

"Looking at old photos and talking with people that know the wood well, there is plenty of evidence to show that the spectacle of flowering bluebells has declined over the years. We are looking carefully at the best ways to balance public enjoyment of the wood whilst implementing the most effective management to conserve the woodland habitat and its bluebells.

"We are hopeful that small changes can make a big difference. This spring, visitors to the wood are being reminded what they can do to help protect the bluebells. So, we are asking people to stay on the designated path, keep dogs under control, and especially not to walk amongst the bluebells."

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