A total of 41 new licences have been awarded for oil and gas operations in the North Sea.

The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) confirmed the new licences today after 134 were announced in November last year.

The UK oil and gas regulator said the move makes it one of the largest rounds in the five decades since the first licensing round took place in 1964 - a total of 175 licences covering 353 blocks.

But environmental groups said the licensing of more oil and gas drilling puts the marine environment at risk and undermined efforts to curb carbon emissions.

OGA chief executive Andy Samuel said: "The UK continental shelf remains a world-class hydrocarbon province where significant resources and economic value remain to be realised.

"The good level of interest in the 28th round highlights the continued attractiveness of the UK's oil and gas resources.

"Licences are, however, just a start and industry, government and the OGA now need to work together to revitalise exploration activity across the basin and convert licences into successful exploration wells."

WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said the decision "flies in the face" of warnings from scientists last week that 2015 looks set to be warmest year on record globally.

"To reduce the risk of dangerous global climate change, the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves need to be left in the ground and not exploited," he said.

"What we really need to see is a concerted effort to create jobs from cutting carbon emissions.

"But, instead we're seeing clean onshore wind and solar companies getting the rug pulled out from under them while the polluting oil and gas industry gets even more help to drill every last drop from under the North Sea.

"While it's true that the oil and gas industry will continue to be a major contributor to our economy for some time, now is the time to be setting out a plan to sensibly transition away from dirty fossil fuels.

"We need to see a just transition that enables us to harness the engineering skills currently deployed in the North Sea and apply them to supporting a range of cleaner forms of energy production."

UK energy minister Andrea Leadsom said: "We are determined to make the most of our North Sea resources to provide secure, reliable energy for hard-working families and businesses, and reduce our reliance on volatile foreign imports.

"We are backing our oil and gas industry which supports hundreds of thousands of jobs across the UK.

"The 28th offshore licensing round comes after the Government announced a major package of support in March to encourage £4 billion of additional investment in the North Sea which will prolong the life of this vital industry."