British retail sales saw their biggest rise in more than a year in March after falling sharply in the previous month, official data showed, raising chances

that recovering consumer spending nudged the economy closer to growth in the first quarter.

The Office for National Statistics said on Friday retail sales volumes rose 1.8 percent on the month to give an annual rise of 3.3 percent. They were both the highest increases since January 2011 and were well above economists' forecasts.

Unusually warm weather in March helped drive up sales of clothing and footwear, as well as gardening products, the ONS said.

Fears of a fuel delivery strike contributed to a 4.9 percent rise in fuel sales on the month, the biggest rise since January 2011. However, some small outlets reported losing trade because they had run out of fuel and had to close.

The figures point to an unexpectedly strong revival in consumption at a time of weak wage growth, high unemployment and worries about the economic outlook.

News from major British retailers out this week has painted a patchy picture of the sector.

Debenhams, the country's second-biggest department store group, surprised markets with broadly flat profits and sounded positive about the coming months, while sales at Britain's biggest clothing retailer Marks & Spencer Plc disappointed after it ran out of best-selling lines.

Meanwhile, retail bellwether John Lewis said on Friday its department store sales rose 13.9 percent on the year in the week to April 14.

By contrast, Tesco has slashed expansion plans for its main British chain. The retailer has suffered more than some rivals in part because it sells more discretionary goods like homewares, where shoppers have been cutting back the most.

(Reporting by Olesya Dmitracova and Peter Griffiths)