England’s public forests are at a “critical milestone” as the Forestry Commission starts staff consultation on plans to reduce the organisation’s budget substantially in line with government spending cuts.

Forestry Commission director-general Tim Rollinson said formal staff consultations were under way on how to deliver a 25% reduction in Westminster-funded activities of Forestry Commission England over the next four years.

But he also revealed that private sector funding was being sought to mitigate some impacts of reduced funding in areas such as research and woodland expansion.

“We will be able to provide specific details about the future shape of our services after we have decided our response to the outcomes of that [staff consultation] process,” said Mr Rollinson.

But he said it was clear the Forestry Commission would become a smaller organisation.

“We will work to avoid sudden change where possible, and phase changes in so that staff and stakeholders can plan ahead for them.

“As we reprioritise our work it is inevitable that there is still a degree of uncertainty about the future and I fully understand how this impacts on the many businesses that depend on us, our wider stakeholders and our staff.”

Mr Rollinson confirmed a number of projects would go ahead this year including the revision of the UK Forestry Standard; ?the work of the Woodland Carbon Task Force; the publication of the National Forest Inventory map and woodland cover statistics, supporting the government’s Big Tree Plant in England; the Woodland Carbon Code; and the English Woodland Grant Scheme.

He said private sector funding could help with the launch of the Woodland Carbon Code, designed as a tool to help people and organisations seeking to reduce their carbon footprints by financing tree-planting projects.

Services and activities classed as essential to the health and welfare of Britain’s forests will be prioritised.

Mr Rollinson said close links had been built with the forest industries and every effort would be made to sustain relationships and minimise the impact of any changes on them.

The Forestry Commission has already centralised its finance, human resources and IT functions, while much of its income now comes from commercial activities and through partnership working. Some 70% of its operational activity is carried out by others.

Forestry Commission Scotland and Forestry Commission Wales are funded by the Scottish and Welsh Assembly governments, and are subject to separate budget settlements of 11% reductions over one year and 7% reductions over three years respectively.