We report the discovery of a population of nearby, blue early-type galaxies with high star formation rates (0.5 < SFR < 50 M⊙ yr−1). They are identified by their visual morphology as provided by Galaxy Zoo for Sloan Digital Sky Survey Data Release 6 and their u−r colour. We select a volume-limited sample in the redshift range 0.02 < z < 0.05, corresponding to luminosities of approximately L* and above and with u−r colours significantly bluer than the red sequence. We confirm the early-type morphology of the objects in this sample and investigate their environmental dependence and star formation properties. Blue early-type galaxies tend to live in lower density environments than ‘normal’ red sequence early-types and make up 5.7 ± 0.4 per cent of the low-redshift early-type galaxy population. We find that such blue early-type galaxies are virtually absent at high velocity dispersions above 200 km s−1. Our analysis uses emission line diagnostic diagrams and we find that ∼25 per cent of them are actively star forming, while another ∼25 per cent host both star formation and an active galactic nucleus (AGN). Another ∼12 per cent are AGN. The remaining 38 per cent show no strong emission lines. When present and uncontaminated by an AGN contribution, the star formation is generally intense. We consider star formation rates derived from H, u band and infrared luminosities, and radial colour profiles, and conclude that the star formation is spatially extended. Of those objects that are not currently undergoing star formation must have ceased doing so recently in order to account for their blue optical colours. The gas-phase metallicity of the actively star-forming blue early-types galaxies is supersolar in all cases. We discuss the place of these objects in the context of galaxy formation. A catalogue of all 204 blue early-type galaxies in our sample, including star formation rates, emission line classification is provided.