WITH December being one of the mildest in four decades, some wildlife not usually seen until spring has been spotted early in East Lancashire.

Huncoat weather expert Roy Chetham said with an average of 5.9 degrees Celsius, last December was the warmest since his records began in 1975, with the exception of 2006. That trend, he said, looks likely to continue into January.

Sightings of tortoiseshell and red admiral butterflies have been reported across East Lancashire. The species is usually hibernating during the colder months, and has come out of hibernation early due to the warmer weather.

Laura Sivell, from the Lancashire branch of Butterfly Conservation, said: “They are one of the species that hibernate as an adult, and they become adults in winter. It appears they have been woken early by the warm weather as it is a bit early for them.”

Early activity in badger setts has also been reported. Jo Bates, chairwoman of the Lancashire Badger Group, said: “A couple of our guys have been out and said they are already quite active.

“They don’t tend to get particularly active until spring. It could become a worry if they give birth as, if the weather changes, the cubs might find it difficult to forage. It has the potential to mess with the natural cycle of the year for the badgers.”

It is a similar story for hedgehogs. Fay Vass, chief executive of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, said: “A mild winter means they may well wake up early, but that doesn’t really matter as long as there is food around. The problem arises when we have a mild winter followed by a cold snap which could kill off slugs, and other things, hedgehogs eat, and then they could be in trouble.”

It isn’t just animals that are appearing early, with Lancashire Telegraph reader John Mullen, of Foxhill Terrace, in Oswaldtwistle, sending in pictures of a rose in full bloom in his back garden.

He said: “Who would believe it? It looks like I am going to have to get my spray out as it would appear it has an aphid infestation.”

Rising river levels caused by the unusual weather over the past month have also caused problems for some animals. Janet Wildgoose, co-ordinator of the International Otter Survival Fund, said: “When the rivers are high, the youngsters can get separated, or the holts can get flooded.”

But there was good news earlier this month when a Scandinavian waxwing was spotted sitting on a branch in Weir Street, Blackburn. The birds are rarely seen in England, but are said to migrate here when the weather is bad on the continent as they hunt for berries.