The government has confirmed it is considering selling parts of the Forestry Commission estate in England as part of its power shift from “big government” to “big society”.

Defra’s confirmation, contained in a letter to MPs, follows speculation in The Telegraph that the government was planning a big sale of forests to raise much-needed cash.

The letter says Defra will publish proposals and engage in public consultation later this year.

“We will invite views from a wide range of potential private and civil society partners on a number of new ownership options and the means to secure public benefits,” the letter says.

“We envisage a managed programme of reform to further develop a competitive, thriving and resilient forestry sector that includes many sustainably managed woods operating as parts of viable land-based businesses.”

Defra says tree-felling will remain controlled through the licensing system managed by the Forestry Commission.

It says proposals would represent a new approach to ownership and management of woodlands and forests, with a reducing role for the estate and a growing role for the private sector and civil society.

Defra says different ways of ownership are not incompatible with the government’s commitment to continued conservation of biodiversity and other public benefits which forests provide.