Bluebells expected to arrive early
A mild start to the year is set to produce an early display of bluebells, experts have predicted.
Although last December was the coldest for a century, it has been followed by the mildest February for a decade and a mild, dry March, prompting bluebells to start flowering a couple of weeks earlier than normal, the National Trust said.
The lack of frost in February and March will have speeded up the development of the bluebells, National Trust naturalist Matthew Oates said.
And the dry weather has slowed the spring grass growth, leaving bluebells and other spring flowers relatively free from competition and paving the way for good displays of the blue carpets of flowers in woodlands.
But Mr Oates said a lack of rain could stunt some bluebells and, with spring arriving "in a rush", displays could be "short and sweet".
The early arrival of bluebells, a classic sign of spring, contrasts with last year when the coldest winter for decades held up their arrival for up to three weeks later than normal.
Mr Oates said: "An absence of frost in the mild February and March months sped up the flowering process of the bluebell, though a bit of rain will speed them up further.
"Easter weekend looks set to be the peak time to see bluebells in the south of England but this will vary depending on aspect. Further north, on high ground and on north-facing slopes the flowering will be later."
In the past, the flowering of bluebells has occurred in a Mexican wave effect across the country starting in the South West, but in recent years has become more patchy and dependent on their location.
This year, the National Trust is running an interactive "bluebell watch", which will let people tweet their sightings of the first bluebells in their area, and will help track the emergence of the flowers across the country and when they are at their peak.