Defra says it is "highly unlikely" ancient woodland would be destroyed under new plans to speed up the planning process, despite Defra secretary of state Owen Paterson suggesting in an interview with The Times that lost trees could be replaced by planting more elsewhere.
He made the comment when discussing Government proposals to mitigate environmental damage caused by development through "offsetting".
"Biodiversity offsetting" is intended to ensure "no net loss" of biodiversity to an area.
Campaigners from the Woodland Trust said offsetting should only ever be a last resort, and Friends of the Earth has warned against putting nature "up for sale".
But Defra added: "The policy already exists in America and Australia. We've been running some pilot schemes over the last year or so and we think the idea of offsetting could work."
Paterson cited the construction of the M6 toll road around Birmingham, saying 10,000 mature trees had been lost, but a million young trees planted.
"Now people will say that's no good for our generation - but, over the long term, that is an enormous increase in the number of trees," he added.
He said it was "a practical example of a high amount of planting following a tragic loss of some wonderful trees". And he added that it would be appropriate for a replacement site to be "about an hour away by car."
Six areas of England are taking part in a two-year pilot of biodiversity offsetting, which began in April 2012. The scheme aims to ensure that when a development causes unavoidable damage to biodiversity, "new, bigger or better nature sites will be created".