PEAK displays of bluebells are expected in time for Easter after they sprung into life much earlier than in last year's cold spring.

The Woodland Trust says nearly 200 records of native bluebells had been submitted to the Nature's Calendar website, which asks the public to submit sightings of natural events which mark the changing seasons.

This time last year, just 43 records had been submitted, as the UK struggled to shake off cold weather and the trust is expecting a much earlier average first flowering date for bluebells than in 2013, when the average date across the UK was May 5.

Woodland Trust director of conservation, Austin Brady, is calling for better protection of ancient woodland, one of the native bluebell's key habitats, to give the plant the best chance of survival in the face of increasing threats from climate change, development and invasive species.

Mr Brady said: "Climate change is not only affecting flowering dates but is also a factor in the number of pests and diseases in the UK quadrupling since the year 2000.

"Combined with government's clear misapprehension that ancient woodland is protected from development, the Woodland Trust is deeply concerned about the future of English bluebells and many other native species.

"Increased protection for all ancient woodland is vital, and linking them with newly planted woodland and hedges will allow wildlife safer passage through the countryside.

"This will help to make our countryside more resilient, and offer more scope for adaptation to the impact of climate change too."

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