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The news this month has been all about Spanish bluebells. Unlike the similar problem with ruddy ducks, where we're killing off our ducks because the wimpish Spanish ducks won't fight them off, the macho Spanish bluebells are hybridising our wonderful native variety, which could eventually disappear.

The native bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, is the deep blue kind which makes our woods a picture this time of year. They have the 'wow factor' - I was driving through the Dukeries to Nottingham last week and suddenly there was a wood, next to the road, quietly blazing blue. Continental visitors have been known to gasp in wonder when seeing them for the first time, in massed ranks under the spring leaves. They have nothing like them - non-scripta is restricted to the Atlantic west of Europe and Britain may have half the world's population. The Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, is a paler blue with a stiffer flower stem - the British species droops elegantly and the petals roll back on themselves, unlike the Spanish ones which are slightly flared.

To find out how our bluebells are faring, Plantlife has launched a national survey - Bluebells for Britain. Anyone who has seen bluebells can follow a simple web-based questionnaire to find out which kind of bluebell they have found and then an online form will tell Plantlife where it is and in what sort of habitat it is growing. Then the results can be collated - "to map our native bluebells and get a clearer picture of how healthy our bluebell population is."

It was ironic that, when Plantlife wanted to identify a County Flower for each county as their millennium project, they found that the bluebell was so widely loved that twenty counties claimed it as theirs. Now the charity is pushing the bluebell as the national flower of the United Kingdom. To keep it we need to care for it - let's seek out our treasures and cherish them.

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Images by permission of Plantlife

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