LOVERS of the great outdoors are being warned to stock up on repellent as they prepare to head off this summer as Scotland's midge population is expected to reach record numbers.

Scotland's leading expert on the scourge of the countryside has said a relatively mild winter resulted in large deposits of the creature's larvae in the ground, ready to hatch.

The prediction came at the launch of the annual Scottish Midge Forecast and follows a record year for the insects in 2014.

Dr Alison Blackwell of midge monitoring company APS biocontrol in Dundee said the forecast has been raised to its highest alert, level five.

She said: "All the ingredients are there for another bumper year. The temperatures are forecast to warm up as the first hatch is due to emerge in a couple of weeks and it has been a relatively mild winter

"We expect midges to be out in force this season. The next two weeks are critical. If the temperatures heat up as predicted it is going to be a good year for the midges - or a bad one - depending on your point of view.

"With the right conditions it could well be another record year."

Dr Blackwell said there are three times as many of the blood sucking creatures in the Highlands than last year with the warm and wet weather providing an ideal breeding ground.

The three main midge counting traps, in Wester Ross, Argyll and Galloway Hills, recorded a total of more than 800,000 midges in May 2014 when they barely caught 2000 in the same month in 2013.

By the second week of June, with the midges coming out in full biting force, the Wester Ross trap alone clocked 915,000 in a week.

In total Wester Ross was the worst hit with 334 percent more midges than 2013, Galloway Hills was 54 percent up and Argyll increased by 30 percent.

"The mild winter meant that more of the larvae survived into this year, so all it needs is the wet and warm weather to come at the right time for them," said Dr Blackwell.

The pests cost Scotland around £286million annually in tourism, with many tourists who have encountered midges pledging not to return.

Last year midges helped prevent an open-air mass being held on the shore of Loch Morar in Lochaber.

It also forced businessman Richard Caring to reconsider a plan to buy Loch Lomond Golf Club four years ago, after the hotelier was targeted by the insects.

Two million midges weigh just a kilo and one square metre of land will contain about 500,000 of the insects. The female of the species is the one that bites.

The flying midge lives for between two days and two weeks depending on weather conditions. During this time the female can lay up to 170 eggs in as much as three batches. In a normal year there are two to three generation of midges born during the season.

Dr Blackwell said: "They normally disappear by the end of September and the larvae is buried deep in the soil as it hibernates during the winter months.

"They have survived all kinds of different and extreme conditions over millions of years - including Ice Ages. They are very adaptable. They are not going away."