TAUNTON Deane MP Rebecca Pow has welcomed new measures in the Housing White Paper to improve the protection granted to ancient woodland and veteran trees.

Ancient woodland covers just 2 per cent of the UK.

This habitat has developed over a long period of time into a highly biodiverse ecosystem which is home to a diverse variety of species.

In addition the undisturbed soil beneath ancient woodland and veteran trees is an integral part of this valued habitat.

But over the past 100 years at least 45 rare and vulnerable species have disappeared because of the loss of ancient woodland.

Ms Pow, who is chair of the  All Party Parliamentary Group for Ancient Woodland and Veteran Tree’s, said she been lobbying hard to increase the level of protection for these precious habitats.

The group has met with Ministers regularly and last year Rebecca led a debate in Parliament on the subject.

The Government has now responded by recommending increasing the protection afforded to ancient woodland in the recently published Housing White Paper.

The recommendation is to toughen national policy to give this prised habitat, the same protection afforded to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks, Green Belt and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

Rebecca said: "Ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees are as precious as the rainforest and it is a travesty that so few remain.

"I have long advocated for greater protection for these irreplaceable habitat and I am delighted that the Government have listened to my calls.

"The Woodland Trust is currently dealing with 709 threats to ancient woodland, the highest in its history, hopefully the proposed new measures will help bring this number down.

"It is widely acknowledged that we need to build more homes with the appropriate infrastructure, but I am a firm believer that this should not be at the expense of our natural environment.

"It is possible to have sustainable development in conjunction with nature and this move by the Government signals a commitment to this endeavour."

Becky Speight, Woodland Trust chief executive, said: "It is a positive step that today’s White Paper recognises the need to strengthen national policy to better protect ancient woodland and aged or veteran trees. Planners would have to recognise them as being as valuable as SSSIs, National Parks and Green Belt land, meaning development which impacts on them should be more definitively restricted.

"Crucially we believe it gives much greater clarity to the place of ancient woodland and veteran trees in the planning process, which benefits all involved. This is the result of years of lobbying, with support from our members, allies in parliament, NGOs and the public."