WALKERS made the most of the Easter bank holiday sunshine by admiring the carpet of bluebells at Badbury Clump over the weekend.

This year the fragrant bell-shaped flowers, which only bloom for a couple of weeks in late spring, have sprouted much earlier than last year, which was an exceptionally cold winter.

Terry Gammage, of Royal Wootton Bassett, visited the bluebells at Badbury Clump near Faringdon on Good Friday and was surprised to see how many had bloomed.

The 61-year-old said: “It’s the most I have seen there for many years. We’ve been going along to see the bluebells at Badbury Clump for four or five years. They’re only there for a short window of time and it’s the most I have seen.”

The Woodland Trust, which asks the public to submit sightings of natural events which mark the changing seasons, said that long term records show flowering dates for English bluebells have got five days earlier in the last 50 years. The Woodland Trust says the main cause of this is climate change, and is calling for better protection for the country’s ancient woodlands, where many bluebells grow.

Director of conservation at the charity Austin 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 the 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.”

In 2013 the average flowering date across the country for bluebells was May 3, after the cold weather slowed down the flowering calendar, and only 43 sightings were recorded on the charity’s Nature’s Calendar website. But this year members of the public have already recorded nearly 200 sightings.

The earliest average first flowering date on record was April 4, in 2012.

Residents can record their sightings on the Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar to help with the charity’s research into how climate change is affecting the environment.

For more information or to record your sighting, visit www.woodlandtrust.org.uk.