The message – "C'mon England – PP" – appeared to have been created by felling thousands of trees in the rainforestPaddy Power

The Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, whose controversial marketing campaigns have included encouraging gamblers to bet on the outcome of the Oscar Pistorius trial, seemed to have outdone itself when it published a photograph showing part of the Amazonian rainforest being ripped down simply to send the England football team a word of encouragement.

The message – "C'mon England – PP" – appeared to have been created by felling thousands of trees in the rainforest, and perhaps unsurprisingly the reaction on Twitter was scathing. One tweet fumed:

Referring to the deaths of hundreds of workers building the World Cup stadiums for the Qatar World Cup, another tweeted:

This time, it seemed, the cheeky bookies had gone too far.

However, not everyone immediately jumped on high horses and rode for the nearest moral high ground. A few wondered why an Irish bookie would be supporting England and others said they thought the image might be Photoshopped – and so it has proved. Now Paddy Power have published another image on which is written: "We didn't give the Amazon a Brazilian".

Amazon II
"We didn't give the Amazon a Brazilian" - the bookmaker confirms it was an elaborate hoaxPaddy Power

The bookmaker claims to have devised the elaborate hoax - which it says involved the computer manipulation of 1.5 million trees - "to raise awareness of deforestation". The company is working with Greenpeace to get people involved in a campaign to save the rainforest. Greenpeace claims an area the size of 122 football pitches is cut down every 90 minutes.

In a statement the company said: "We knew we'd drop off a fair few Christmas card lists yesterday, but we couldn't resist a bit of fake Twitter mischief to highlight an important issue to football fans as our World Cup warm-up. At least it gave people something to get animated about during last night's England-Honduras bore fest."

Whether this latest campaign will actually raise awareness of rainforests as much as it raises awareness of Paddy Power is another question. But there's one thing it seems safe to bet on: the readiness of some parts of the online community to take swift offence.