March was the driest for 40 years

The past month has been the driest March for around 40 years, forecasters said today.

Provisional recordings show that the UK has also seen 25% more sunshine than usual over the last four weeks as temperatures climbed and Britons enjoyed their first taste of spring.

But there was bad news for those hoping for an early start to summer - April showers are on their way as usual.

According to provisional Met Office figures, the average rainfall between March 1 and 29 stands at only 39.1mm (1.5in).

This is expected to rise very slightly when the showers of the past two days are factored in.

However, it is still expected to be well below the 95.9mm (3.8in) norm for March.

The eastern part of the country escaped most of the wet weather with only a couple of millimetres of rain falling on Lincolnshire and East Anglia.

As expected, Western Scotland was the wettest part of the country, where a total of 91mm (3.6in) of rain fell.

Large swathes of the country were also graced with an unusually high number of sunny spells over the past four weeks, giving Britain a long-awaited respite from the cold and gloomy weather of the month before.

The UK as a whole experienced an average of 121 hours of sunshine in March - compared with a norm of 97 hours for the month and a figure of only 52.5 for February.

Met Office forecaster John Hammond said: "This has clearly been a dry month, especially in some parts of England and Wales where only a few millimetres of rain has been recorded.

"You can't get away from the fact that it has been a very dry March.

"Dry weather and sunshine often go hand in hand. If you have areas of high pressure, which often irons out the moisture in the atmosphere, then you are more likely to get fine and settled weather and ultimately you can have quite a lot of sunshine as well.

"This could turn out to be the driest March we've had for about four decades."

According to the provisional observations, Wales saw the most sunshine last month. A figure of 156 hours was recorded, marking a 60% increase on the average figure.

But mixed and unsettled weather is on its way.

While temperatures are expected to climb above average at times, Mr Hammond said: "We can expect some April showers."