More than 3,000km² of Brazilian rainforest disappeared between August and December 2007, according to the Brazilian minister for environment.

Marina Silva said that satellite imaging revealed deforestaion had reached 3,235km² during the period, with 1,922km² felled during November and December.

“We’ve never before detected such a high deforestation rate at this time of year,” said Gilberto Camara, head of the National Institute of Space Research which undertook the aerial observations.

“It is a behaviour completely new and very worrying,” said John Paul Capobianco, executive secretary at the Brazilian environment ministry.

The region of Mato Grosso was the worst hit by deforestation, with 1,786km² felled over the five months.

Ms Silva said that the likely causes of the deforestation were extended droughts from earlier in the year and the increase in value of commodities, leading many farmers to fell trees in order to provide pastures for cattle or space for soya bean plantations.