THE Duchess of Cornwall was this week accused of "setting a terrible example" by animal rights campaigners after she wore a rabbit fur scarf during a visit to Westonbirt Arboretum.

The duchess, who was a keen huntswoman, wore the light brown, twisted-style neckwear as she toured in the biting wind.

But her choice of scarf was immediately condemned by protesters from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The pressure group has been demonstrating, with the help of a man in a bear's costume, at several of the Prince's engagements over the past few weeks to highlight the use of bear skins in Guards ceremonial hats.

"It's very surprising and shocking that she should choose to wear fur," PETA spokeswoman Anita Singh said.

"She should be setting a good example, particularly as Charles has strong views over the conservation of wildlife, and not be glorifying the slaughter of animals.

"She is flying in the face of public opinion, which is overwhelmingly opposed to the breeding of animals for the fur trade. It's a terrible example to set. I really can't believe she's done it."

PETA claims rabbits are bred purely for the fur market and are not a by-product of the food industry.

"Rabbits are often kept in cramped cages before being electrocuted or having their necks snapped in a painful death," Ms Singh said.

The trade is illegal in the UK but furs are imported from Scandinavia and China.

Clarence House confirmed the scarf was made of rabbit fur. The Duchess has worn the item on previous occasions.

Despite the controversy there were smiles all round when Prince Charles and his wife made the two-mile trip from their Highrove home to Westonbirt Arboretum.

They had been invited to join in the arboretum's 50th anniversary celebrations by planting a tree in the Rotary Glade.

Kellie Lovett, marketing manager for the Forestry Commission, said "It's our 50th anniversary for the Forestry Commission at Westonbirt and 21 years for the Friends scheme, of which the Duchess of Cornwall has agreed to become a patron.

"We are also celebrating the end of the centenary for the Rotary Club. For the anniversary Rotary came together to donate money for the Maple Glade.

"We hope it will be the best collection of maples in the world and this is one of the final trees to be planted."

The Duchess left most of the tree planting duties to her husband, joking that she was better at watching.

After carefully covering the roots of the Japanese maple, Prince Charles, who is famous for talking to the plants in his own garden at Highgrove, wished the tree good luck before waving to a crowd of dog walkers who had assembled nearby.

Among those watching the royal couple's visit was Sarah Bolton, a nurse from Hullavington who attended the royal wedding as a representative of Tetbury Hospital.

Mrs Bolton, who was out walking with daughter Jessie, neighbour Anna Durrant and her dogs.

She said: "It's really nice for them to visit here.

"The Prince is wonderful and he does a wonderful job raising awareness for charities especially for Tetbury Hospital."

After chatting to members of the Forestry Commission team and local members of the South Cotswold Rotary Club, the royal couple were taken to Westonbirt's Oak Hall for a private reception with the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum.

Speaking as the royal cavalcade departed from the Rotary Glade, Joyce Wilson and Janice Freeman agreed the visit had been a success.

The pair, who both come from Yate and work as volunteers at the arboretum, were part of the group introduced to the couple.

Mrs Wilson said: "We didn't expect to meet them. They were very nice and very natural. It was a nice surprise but we've got to get back to work now."