THE Archbishop of Canterbury has turned down an invitation to be a patron of the RSPCA.

The former Bishop of Durham, the Most Rev Justin Welby, declined the invitation from the animal charity as he has reluctantly decided to restrict his patronage, a spokeswoman for Lambeth Palace said.

His predecessor, Dr Rowan Williams, was vice-patron of the RSPCA, which was founded by Anglican priest, the Rev Arthur Broome in 1824.

The spokeswoman said: "Since taking office in March this year, the Archbishop has received many kind invitations to patron a large variety of charities and good causes. Each invitation has been an honour, and in an ideal world he would like to accept them all.

"However, in light of the sheer volume of the requests the Archbishop receives, and the many pressures on his time and resources, he has reluctantly decided to restrict his patronage to a manageable number of organisations, based on where he feels his support could be most beneficial.

"Nevertheless, the Archbishop has enormous admiration for the RSPCA and hopes to see its work thrive long into the future."

Last year the RSPCA was heavily criticised after it emerged it spent £326,000 on legal action against a fox hunt.

Critics claimed the staggering expense of bringing the prosecution against the Heythrop Hunt in the Cotswolds was a waste of the money donated to the charity by members of the public.