Queen guitarist Brian May has launched a campaign to stop the “indefensible” cull of badgers which has been given the go-ahead to tackle tuberculosis in cattle.
The Team Badger campaign, backed by major animal welfare groups, aims to raise public awareness and collect signatures on a government petition to force a debate on badger culling in Parliament.
The campaign was launched after the first licence was issued for a pilot cull of badgers, a protected species, in an area of Gloucestershire, in a step the Government hopes will pave the way for more widespread culling.
As many as 3,000 badgers could be shot during the first cull, which farmers say is necessary because the wild animal spreads the disease to livestock.
At the launch of the Team Badger billboard in London this morning, May said he became involved with the issue "even before this government was in office, because it was apparent to many of us what was going to happen if David Cameron was given power - that animals, wild animals, were going to become completely unimportant, unrepresented."
The musician and campaigner said every badger was a "thinking, feeling being" and warned: "Badgers are under this immediate threat."
He called on the public for their help and urged them to sign Team Badger's petition against the cull.
A long-term study found that culling of badgers over a number of years on a large scale could reduce the incidence of TB in cattle herds by 16 per cent.
But May said the cull was "scientifically, practically and ethically indefensible and it is against the wishes of the majority of people of this country".
He wants the cull to be abandoned in favour of vaccination, which he believes is the only long-term hope for eradicating TB in cattle.
Mark Jones, UK executive director of the Humane Society International (HSI), said: "We all recognise that this policy isn't science-led, that it's not going to solve the problem of TB in cattle, and that the only thing it's going to do is decimate badger populations and cause untold suffering for individual badgers."
Mr Jones added: "It's fantastic that Brian May has given us the opportunity to come together under this umbrella of Team Badger, and we're very committed to reversing the Government's policy."
A spokesman for the Environment Department (Defra) said: "Nobody wants to see badgers being culled but science and the experience of other countries shows that we can't get on top of TB without tackling it in wildlife as well as in cattle.
"Without action, TB is forecast to cost the taxpayer £1 billion over the next decade.
"We have strengthened measures to restrict the spread of disease between cattle, but badger control has to be one part of the solution.
"We are investing £15.5 million into the development of usable vaccines but we simply cannot say with any certainty if or when they might be ready to deploy in the field and we have to take action now."