THE world's leading authority on midges has claimed the scourge of the Highlands is to return in record numbers.

Dr Alison Blackwell claimed the relatively mild winter and warm spring weather that's arrived over the past week, following torrential rain, are perfect conditions for the insect to thrive after it hatches.

Midges cost Scottish tourism £286million with many visitors refusing to return because of the little beasts.

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Dr Blackwell, who runs a midge forecast, said: "If the rain continues over the next couple of weeks it will be perfect conditions and a bumper year for midges.

"With the mild winter and now the warm, wet spring weather, we could see a similar bumper first emergence in mid-late May as we had two years ago, when the weather pattern was similar.

"The critical period that determines the timing of the first emergence is now. They like warm and damp conditions. They don't like hot and dry summers."

Dr Blackwell, of the Edinburgh University, added that the wildfires in the Highlands and Islands last year would have "little effect" on midge numbers.

"They are pretty adaptable in surviving all kinds of conditions as we saw in the Big Freeze," she said.

"The larvae bury two-three inches into soil. I'm afraid their numbers are just so huge it will have made little difference."