LANDOWNER Charlotte Townshend has stepped down as the patron of Dorset Wildlife Trust after being targeted by animal rights activists.

Militants focused on Mrs Townshend and the trust as they stepped up their fight against the badger cull in an online campaign.

A joint statement said that Mrs Townshend confirmed that she will be standing down as a patron after the trust was targeted by animal rights activists campaigning against the Government's badger cull trials.

A spokesman for Mrs Townshend and Ilchester Estates said: “Mrs Townshend would never do anything to harm the work of the Dorset Wildlife Trust which she and her family have supported for many years, and will continue to ensure that her Estates are managed to the highest standard for the benefit of wildlife and conservation.

“It is a great shame that some of those who claim to be campaigning for wildlife actually focus on such negative activity rather than engaging in the sort of positive conservation work which Mrs Townshend has carried out over decades.

"She will continue to support the Trust and work at a practical level for the future of Dorset’s wildlife and countryside.”

Mrs Townshend's Ilchester Estates owns large areas of land in Dorset including parts of Chesil Beach, the Fleet and Abbotsbury Swannery.

The Stop the Cull group has targeted Mrs Townsend because she is a joint master of the Cattistock Hunt and because it claims that the reserve site for the badger cull would be on her land.

The Dorset Wildlife Trust, which is against the badger cull, has thanked Mrs Townsend for all of her family's support.

Dr Simon Cripps, chief executive for Dorset Wildlife Trust, said: "We are grateful to Mrs Townshend for her and her family’s support over many decades.

"Her grandfather was one of DWT’s founders over 50 years ago. "It is vital to our conservation work that DWT continues to work with land-owners and farmers in the county who have helped to make Dorset the natural environment that it currently is.”

The Stop the Cull campaign welcomed Mrs Townshend's decision on its website and said that it had not targeted the trust.

It said that it hoped that it would send a strong message that it would take on anyone over the badger cull.