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Last week, a leak to the press disclosed the extent of the Government?s plans for a bonfire of the quangos, designed to save the taxpayer billions of pounds.

A Cabinet Office list of 177 quangos that are due to be abolished and a list of a further 94 still under threat of being scrapped were revealed.

The biggest cuts are connected to DEFRA, with more than 50 bodies to be abolished.

Many will have their functions transferred back to the department.

Among the 94 publicly funded bodies whose fate has yet to be decided are Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission.

Whitehall insiders expect the majority to be abolished, removed from public funding or radically reformed.

Quangos soared under Labour to cost an estimated £65billion a year and employ more than 100,000 people.

A Country Land & Business Association spokesman issued a word of caution: ?We believe it is important the Government carefully considers the merits and demerits of cutting each of these bodies before making a decision on whether to scrap them. DEFRA is reportedly planning to cut more than 50 agencies, and ministers have apparently only had around three months to decide which ones will go. It is important not to get rid of expertise that is useful and hard to replace. There is also a benefit in having some bodies at arm?s length from Government departments.?

Countryside Alliance spokesman, Tim Bonner, said: ?During the years of Labour Government, DEFRA seemed to use new quangos to insulate itself from the countryside and keep rural people at arm?s length. There are fundamental questions about the Government?s involvement in many areas of the countryside. Why is the Government still growing trees when we accepted decades ago that the nationalisation of shipbuilding, mining and every other industry was a bad idea? How much of Natural England?s remit is having a direct benefit on biodiversity, conservation and rural communities? DEFRA?s quangos and agencies are ripe for review and we need not fear that all cuts will necessarily impact negatively on the countryside.?