Pictures: Blue surprise for woodland visitors... on our doorstep

Woolley Wood Bluebell Festival: Ranger Chris Roberts showing families round the bluebell displays
Woolley Wood Bluebell Festival: Ranger Chris Roberts showing families round the bluebell displays

Why a Sheffield wildflower display could be one of the finest in the country.

If you go down to the woods today (or anytime over the next few weeks) you could be sure of a big blue surprise.

It depends on where you go, but a small strip of woodland within ten minutes walk of Meadowhall tram stop would be a good choice.

“We think this is one of the best bluebell displays in the country, and it’s here in Sheffield,” said Penny Rea of Wincobank Hill Connects, who organised the annual Woolley Wood Bluebell Festival last Saturday.

Sheffield Council ranger Chris Roberts was more circumspect about whether the mile-long stretch of wood between Ecclesfield Road and Concord Park has the best bluebells in Sheffield, diplomatically keeping supporters of Ecclesall, Bowden Housteads, Greno Woods and Gleadless Valley in mind, among several others.

“It’s certainly one of the best woods for bluebells in South Yorkshire,” he said. The position on a rolling hillside helps show off this month’s carpet of blue, he said, along with Woolley Wood being a ‘primary ancient woodland’.

“That means this is actually part of the old British ‘wildwood’, so this hillside has been wooded continually since the end of the last ice age 13,000 years ago,” said Chris.

He added that flowers like bluebells, wood anemone and yellow archangel thrive in very ancient woodlands, which because of their wet or hilly situation (or in cases like Woolley because they were on old parish boundaries) have not been cleared by humans in the past.

And then there’s the name: ‘Woolley’ has nothing to do with sheep, said members of 61st Wincobank Scout group. The name actually comes from Wolf Lea, making Woolley Wood the woodland in the valley of wolves, they insisted.

Yet all of this is perched on a small hillside of the Outdoor City that many Sheffielders have never heard of. Hence the festival, attended by 400 people, organised by the voluntary Wincobank Hill Connects project and supported by local councillors, community organisations and refreshments from the 61st Wincobank and 231st Shiregreen Scout groups.

“We want to get as many people we can into this quiet corner of Sheffield, to see this stunning display,” said Penny Rea, who needed little encouragement to wax lyrical about the blue Maytime haze of the woods around her.

“This is England, with its weather and its grass and its mud, which I love. The smells and sounds and feeling of nature you get somewhere like this is part of our character, I think. I like to imagine the distant sound of M1 you hear in Woolley Wood as being like a waterfall, and if you do that you could be in the middle of nowhere!”

Rangers say the bluebells were a few days late arriving after the year’s damp start, but should now be out until the end of May in many of Sheffield’s woodlands.

The Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust warn that the invasive Spanish variety is spreading into woods from local gardens, however, where it can hybridise with the bluer, smaller British bluebell. Nick Howard from the Trust said:

“We’re encouraging people to buy British bluebells from nurseries or even replace their non-native garden plants with British, and compost carefully as the spread of non-natives is largely due to the disposal of garden waste.”

If you do get rid of your Spanish bluebells, don’t throw them out into the woods or in the green waste bin, he advised, instead tie them in a black plastic bag and leave them to rot down. (More information on bluebell identification at: www.wildsheffield.com/bluebells).

Penny Rea said that Sheffield’s woodlands are a huge benefit to the health and wellbeing of people in the Outdoor City.

“But I think we all need to get involved, to get out of our houses into our woodlands but also to help pick up litter and report problems.

There are fewer rangers in the city now, and I think if we value our woodlands and green spaces we need to help our rangers to look after them.”