UK ministers are planning to abolish their independent scientific watchdog English Nature, the BBC has learnt.
Ministers deny English Nature will be weakened
Ministers want the work to be taken over by a new body responsible for protecting the landscape and delivering services in local areas.
The proposed changes have enraged environmentalists, who fear the move will dilute nature protection.
The government is considering the idea among a raft of new rural policies being drawn up by Lord Haskins.
His report on the delivery of services in the countryside is to be published soon.
But the BBC Radio 4's Today programme understands he is about to describe the system as a bureaucratic mess which confuses people and needs streamlining.
One of his findings is that English Nature, the government's official wildlife watchdog which is 50 years old, should be replaced.
The work of English Nature would be handed over to another body, under a new "land management" agency, responsible for landscape and beautiful areas.
Today's Roger Harrabin said the government was ready to accept much of Lord Haskins' review, including this controversial element, although it might back down if there was an outcry.
But environmental groups say this is a convenient measure, given English Nature's stance on some issues, such as its doubts about the commercial production of GM food.
Its views also differed with ministers on road building and airport expansion.
Tony Juniper, of Friends of the Earth, told Today: "These reforms, as far we know them, could be putting English Nature into a larger body where its focus and remit will disappear."
Tom Burke, on the board of English Nature, told the same programme: "It's potentially an act of barbarism. As far as I can see, what's proposed will amount to selling the biodiversity police to the agricultural mafia, and that's a completely outrageous proposition."
The government insists the plan would not reduce the body's effectiveness.
But Shadow Environment Secretary David Liddington said: "My fear is that the government just wants to get rid of an uncomfortable and inconvenient critic."
He wants more services to be delivered locally by voluntary groups.