The dewy-eyed innocence of baby seals has prompted a rare burst of environmental activism in Russia that has moved Vladimir Putin to end their slaughter.

The annual spring cull in the northern White Sea region has been scrapped after Putin condemned the clubbing of baby seals for their fur as a "bloody trade."

The Natural Resources and Ecology Ministry said that it was responding to public concern, but the Prime Minister's words appeared to have been decisive.

Yuri Trutnev, the Natural Resources Minister, reacted swiftly, outlawing the cull of harp seals younger than one year old after Putin told a Cabinet meeting that "it's clear that it should have been banned long ago."

The ministry said: "This is a serious step forward to protect Russia's biological diversity. This decision was made largely thanks to public environmental organizations which took an active position on this issue."

Conservation groups have staged protests in 20 Russian cities this week, demanding an end to the slaughter. Activists accused Norwegian companies of encouraging the killing because seal hunting was no longer allowed in their own country.

Click here to read the full story in the Times of London.