Ancient woodland in Epping Forest is facing a “real threat” after a proposed government scheme could see centuries old trees hacked down, it is claimed.

Environment Secretary Owen Patterson has faced a fierce backlash since announcing details of the 'biodiversity offsetting' scheme which he plans to introduce.

If it is given the go ahead, trees which are hundreds of years old could be chopped down and replaced by 100 more elsewhere, according to opponants.

And it is feared Epping Forest could be affected due to the government pressure to build new homes in the district.

Rupert Read, of the Green Party, criticised the scheme.

He said: “I used to live for a while in Leyton and I visited Epping Forest. I have got a personal interest in that wonderful woodland.

“He (Patterson) has said that he thinks it could be considered that ancient woodland will be gotten rid of and replaced by new plantations.

“Patterson does not seem to get if you replace ancient woodland it can never be like for like.

“It is a real worry.”

“This is exactly what happened a couple of years ago when the Conservative government threatened to sell off the forests which are owned by the government. There was a huge reaction and it was cancelled,” He added.

“People want to keep their small piece of ancient woodland.

“I think that Patterson might have bitten off more than he can chew.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been contacted for comment.