ENVIRONMENTAL groups today congratulated the government on its decision to reject plans to build a massive new container terminal at Dibden Bay near the New Forest.

They say a new super-port would have destroyed wildlife areas of national and international importance and prevented the area's inclusion in the new New Forest National Park.

The RSPB added that the decision means that irreplaceable mudflats and grassland will remain a haven for wintering birds.

Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper said: "This is a bold government decision that we warmly welcome. Ministers have been subjected to an intense but spurious business-backed campaign that was based on misconceived claims about the need for the port and the benefits it would bring.

"The truth is it is not needed, and that the environmental costs would be far too high. We hope this decision heralds an era when the environment really is at the heart of policy,and not simply a resource to be sacrificed for short-term business gains.''

New Forest Friends of the Earth spokesman Julie Astin added: "This is a great day for everyone living locally. All the hard work exposing ABP's flawed case has been worthwhile. The local community will be overjoyed that this destructive port will not be built."

Meanwhile Chris Corrigan, RSPB south- east regional director, said: "This is wonderful news for wildlife and for the people of Southampton. Dibden Bay is a special place for birds and to sanction its destruction would have been an enormous folly.

"The government deserves full credit for taking this rational but difficult decision and we are taking it as a significant sign of its commitment to sustainable development.

"Other port applicants must now heed this warning that wildlife laws cannot be so easily dismissed. We will remain on our guard and are determined to protect other wildlife habitats still at risk from similar port proposals."