The Brazilian government tried to bury bad news about an alarming rise in deforestation of the Amazon by releasing the figures on a public holiday, critics have claimed.

The figures showed a 28% rise in the rate of deforestation in just 12 months but the data was published when most Brazilians were celebrating Republic Proclamation Day.

The data showed that an area of rainforest the size of Devon was flattened in just a matter of months.

Richard George, forest campaigner at Greenpeace, told IBTimes UK: "This is not the image which Brazil wants to be giving out to the world, especially with the football World Cup coming to the country in under a year's time.

"It is not a good time for this to be happening. The government knows this, which is why this information was released today [Republic Day]. The idea was that nobody would notice this, but we've been keeping an eye on it and if the government does not act in a meaningful way then it will face public opinion."

Fuelling the increase in deforestation was the appetite of politicians for surging economic growth to transform Brazil into the world's new "bread basket". Huge swathes of the Amazon are being sacrificed to achieve this aim, said environmentalists.

Recent changes to the Forest Code by the government opened the door for farmers to hire loggers to clearcut areas of the Amazon to increase the acreage of arable land for rape oil production and cattle grazing.

But the measures have been hugely unpopular among Brazilians with 80% opposing them. With a general election next year, politicians will not want to lose votes by alienating voters.

Environment minister Izabella Teixeria denied that cuts in government funding for law enforcement teams had played a role in the surge in deforestation.

"We confirm a 28% increase in the rate of deforestation, reaching 5,843 sq km (2,256 square miles)," she said.

"The Brazilian government does not tolerate and does not accept any rise in illegal deforestation.

"Our commitment is to overturn any increase in deforestation. Our goal is to eliminate deforestation."