THE rate of pregnancies among under 18s in Test Valley has more than halved since records began, new figures show.

In 1998, when the Office for National Statistics first started compiling conception data by local authority, the pregnancy rate for young women aged between 15 and 17 was 31.6 per 1,000 .

By 2016, the year covered by the latest statistics, that figure had dropped to 14.9.

Numerous local authorities across England and Wales saw under 18 pregnancy rates reach record lows. In Test Valley the year with the lowest rate was 2014, with 14.8 per 1,000.

Natika Halil, chief executive of sexual health charity FPA, put the "dramatic fall in teenage pregnancy rates" down to hard work from health and education professionals, as well as the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy which ended in 2010.

She explained: "That's why it's so concerning to see the cuts to sexual health services across the country, which could so easily undermine this hard-won achievement, and mean that we see these results reverse in the coming years.

"Teenage pregnancy can be a result of many different factors, but we know it can be reduced by investing the right time, resources and expertise into services and education.

"This investment not only saves money in the long term, but also helps prevent the range of negative long-term educational, health and social outcomes that young parents and their children are more likely to experience."

In total, 31 young women under 18 became pregnant in Test Valley in 2016.

Of these women 14, or 45%, chose to have an abortion.

This rate has increased since 1998 from 44%.

The percentage of young mothers who chose to have an abortion was lower in the under 16 bracket.

The statistics covering under 16s have been merged into three year periods, as the annual figures are very small.

They show that between 2014 and 2016 there were 21 underage pregnancies, with 43% choosing to have an abortion.

Ms Halil added: "It's important to remember that whether or not young people are sexually active, or choose to become parents, they should never face stigma or judgement.

"Pregnancy and parenthood can be a positive life choice for young people, and young parents deserve to get the support they need to make informed choices about their lives.

"This is support that only properly-funded services, alongside high-quality relationships and sex education, can provide."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said that nationally "teenage pregnancies now stand at the lowest levels since records began".

She added that across the country the government has "given local authorities more than £16 billion to spend on public health, including to improve access to sexual health services".