Broad Street Wrington Miscellania
Is picking bluebells a crime ?

Conservation matters

Bluebells - is picking a crime?

This time last year, the Editor asked about the legality of picking a bunch of bluebell flowers from the wild after someone was seen carrying these flowers. Well, after much research (and argument!), it seems that it all depends on the circumstances.

Picking bluebells, along with most other wild flowers, fruit and foliage, is not generally an offence, although there might be associated access and ownership issues relating to where the plants are growing (Theft Act).

However, it is certainly illegal for anyone, without the permission of the owner or occupier of the land, to intentionally uproot or destroy any wild plant (Wildlife & Countryside Act). In addition to this general restriction, there are some rare or vulnerable plants that are specially protected by law and the picking, removal or sale of any part of these plants is unlawful.

Bluebells were added to the 'sale' part of this listing as a result of dealers pressurising landowners to sell bluebell sites and it is now an offence for anyone to collect wild bluebells for commercial purposes.

Of course, the individual seen carrying that bunch of bluebells could have obtained them quite legitimately with the permission of the landowner, from cultivated plants grown commercially or maybe from a domestic garden.

On the other hand, bluebells are best seen in the wild where they should be allowed to follow their natural life cycle. Their rich scent might enhance the temptation to pick the flowers, but they won't last anything like as long in a vase, quickly wilting and dying, although it's interesting to note that picking the flowers is not as damaging to the plant as treading down the leaves.

Sadly, like many other wild plants, our native bluebell is now under threat, partly because of competition and hybridisation with the Spanish bluebell, a non-native species that is frequently grown in gardens, and from the effects of habitat loss and the uncertainties of climate change.

Most of our wild plants that have become extinct have apparently been lost in the last fifty years as a result of changes in land use, the development of waste ground, more extensive management of roadside verges and other green areas and, significantly, the loss of hedgerows and woodland - even through changes in the way we manage our own gardens.

Which and how many wild flowers you see will depend on where you look, because like all plants, they are adapted to different growing conditions. The ideal way to protect them is to conserve the conditions where they grow naturally. So, if you want to identify a wild flower, please make a sketch, take notes or take a photo - never take the plant!