The Natural Environment Research Council is looking to save £24 million up to 2006 by reducing or withdrawing funding from current priorities.
After consultation with more than 80 organisations involving 200 scientists, policy-makers, business executives and the public, Nerc has decided that it is spreading its budget too thinly. Over the next five years, it plans to "focus its investments in the priority areas of climate change, Earth's life support systems and sustainable energy, resource and land use and develop and implement criteria for withdrawing funding from other areas."
The council's five-year strategy for the UK environmental sciences community is expected to be published in April.
Helen Thorne, Nerc's head of strategic planning, said the exact nature of the changes would depend on the outcome of the comprehensive spending review, but funds would need to be freed whatever the result.
She added that most of the money would come from projects reaching their end but the council would work closely with the scientific and user communities on areas from which to pull out.
The council said it would agree criteria for decreasing support over the next six months.