Woodland wanders with Sheffield Woodland Connections – bluebells in Ecclesall Woods 8th May 2020

A short video among the English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) tracing the winding paths in Ecclesall Woods, Sheffield. Enjoy the sights and sounds of South Yorkshire’s largest ancient woodland in all its springtime splendour. With around 50% of the world’s population, Britain is the only place where you can see such large colonies of bluebells and the dazzling display only lasts for a month at most.

Bluebells are a key ancient woodland indicator species and where extensive carpets of them are seen it is safe to assume that you are in woodland dating back at least 400 years. While the bluebells themselves are not this old the bulbs lay dormant in the soil, surviving for decades while they wait for enough light to flower and creep incrementally outwards.

Ecclesall Woods, coppiced area in Wood 2

It is a few years since this large area to the east of Abbey Lane underwent coppicing.  Several large sycamores were cut down and many lapsed hazel coppice stools were recut to allow more light to reach the understory.  This encourages regeneration of the ground flora, the seeds for which lie dormant within the soil of this ancient woodland awaiting the opportunity to germinate.

When visiting in late May I spotted the following plant without leaving the path: English bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta; herb robert Geranium robertianum; greater stitchwort Stellaria holostea; yellow archangel Lamium galeobdolon; enchanter’s nightshade Circaea lutetiana and tufted hair grass Dechampsia cespitosa.  All but the last of these are ancient woodland indicator species and the hope is that the management strategy will increase their numbers.  Brambles Rubus fruiticosa have not yet taken over the site, as often seen with other clearings, however a close eye will have to be kept on the emerging bracken Pteridium aquilinum.

Bracken and bluebells are both woodland species, although they are sometimes found on moors and grasslands where no trees are present.  They often indicate that there was previously woodland at the location and these missing woods are known as ‘shadow woods‘.

photograph © Fran Halsall.