More than 1,000 demonstrators wearing badger masks protest against planned badger culls, which are due to begin from this weekend in an effort to tackle bovine TB.
Queen guitarist Brian May and TV naturalist Bill Oddie were among the thousands of demonstrators who marched through Westminster on Saturday afternoon.
Wearing black and white to demonstrate their opposition to the culls, the protesters gathered at Tate Britain to mark the start of culling pilots in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset.
Some 5,000 badgers are set to be killed in the two south west regions, with policing costs expected to reach £4m to cope with potential disruption from activists.
The pilot culls aim to ensure free-running badgers can be killed humanely, with marksmen observed by independent experts to check they are killing the protected animal swiftly, and post-mortem examinations carried out to assess speed of death.
The pilots will also assess whether sufficient badgers can be killed in an area to have an effect in reducing TB in cattle, following a long-term study which found that culling 70 per cent of badgers in an area could reduce the disease in herds by 16 per cent.
If successful, the government plans to roll out culling more widely in hot spots for the disease, which can be transmitted from badgers to livestock and between cattle. The costs of the cull will be borne by farmers.
#badgersaturday All Badgers and friends please meet at 12 noon at Tate Britain. We will be heard ! Bri @ Team Badger.
— Dr. Brian May (@DrBrianMay) June 1, 2013
Huge respect to all #badgersaturday protestors – whole culling issue disgusts me especially in view of skewed evidence, ignoring options!
— Julie (@ravgirl4x4) June 1, 2013
I’ve huge sympathy and respect for farmers but I believe the only way to stop TB is vaccination and bio security Not an all out #badgercull
— Ben Fogle (@Benfogle) May 31, 2013
— NationalFarmersUnion (@NFUtweets) June 1, 2013
But experts, including scientists behind the long-term trial, have raised concerns that the policy will have “unimpressive” results in reducing TB and suggested that it does not make economic sense.
The government said the cull is necessary as part of efforts to stop increasing outbreaks of TB in dairy and beef herds, which saw 28,000 cattle slaughtered in England last year. Without action, infection and costs would continue to soar, officials said.
Farming Minister David Heath said: “Nobody wants to kill badgers but the scientific evidence and experience of countries tells us that we will not get on top of Bovine TB without addressing infection in wildlife as well as cattle.”
But shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said: “Incompetent Defra ministers are pressing ahead with a badger cull despite scientists warning against this untested and risky approach.”
A poll released yesterday reveals that the public is divided on the issue of culling, with 34 per cent opposing the policy, and almost as many 29 per cent backing it. The remainder of those questioned did not know or had no strong views on a cull.
The British Veterinary Association, which is supporting the cull, urged protesters not to hinder the pilot schemes, so information could be gathered by independent experts to assess if shooting free-running badgers could be done humanely.
But Philip Mansbridge, chief executive of animal charity Care for the Wild, said: “The badger cull has no scientific, economic or animal welfare justification.”