While the vast majority of people enjoy Birchanger Wood’s springtime carpet of bluebells on their walks through our local woodland, some visitors are picking large numbers of them and trampling them by straying off paths.
The picking of wild flowers and plants in Birchanger Wood is a criminal offence. According to the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 it is illegal to “uproot any wild plant without permission from the landowner or occupier” or to pick flowers from a special conservation site or reserve.
Almost half the world’s bluebells are found in the UK, they’re relatively rare in the rest of the world. Bluebells are fragile flowers that don’t like change or disturbance, preferring ancient woods like Birchanger Wood where the ground has lain undisturbed for years.
Bluebell colonies take a long time to establish – around five to seven years from seed to flower. The flowers can take years to recover after footfall damage. If a bluebell’s leaves are crushed, they die back from lack of food as the leaves cannot photosynthesise. As such, it is essential to stick to the paths.
In Birchanger Wood you will see how narrow tracks made by one person soon become wider and the bluebells end up in island-like patches instead of a woodland-wide blue carpet that we all love.
Another reason to stick to designated paths in bluebell woods is that the bulbs become damaged when the soil is compacted from the weight of footfall. The situation has become so critical in popular bluebell areas that woodland owners like the National Trust and the Woodland Trust have taken measures to control the numbers of people and where they walk, simply to preserve the flowers so that future generations can enjoy them.
Despite notices and publicity in the local press, members of the public have also been ripping ivy off trees, perhaps under the false assumption that they are helping the trees. Healthy trees are not harmed by ivy. Nectar, pollen and berries of ivy are an essential food source for insects and birds during autumn and winter when little else is about. It also provides shelter for insects, birds, bats and other small mammals. Destroying ivy in Birchanger Wood without the permission of the Birchanger Wood Trust is also a criminal offence.
The Birchanger Wood trustees are dedicated to conserving and protecting woodland habitat and volunteers work tirelessly to look after the wood. Our work is undermined by damage to our woodland flora, whether bluebells or ivy, which are essential parts of the woodland ecology. Please respect the efforts we go to in order to ensure there is a thriving woodland habitat on our doorstep, open to the public without charge all year round.