* Shooting badgers seen as way to reduce cattle disease
* Animal rights campaigners say is cruel, ineffective
* Guitarist from rock band Queen lifts profile of protest
LONDON, June 1 (Reuters) - Protesters dressed as badgers and led by the Queen guitarist Brian May marched through central London on Saturday demanding that the government scrap a plan to cull badgers, aimed at slowing the spread of a cattle disease.
About 5,000 of the nocturnal black-and-white animals are due to be shot by marksmen in the six-week pilot cull, authorised to begin on Saturday in two areas in southwestern England.
The cull has divided rural England, pitting farmers determined to protect their livestock and livelihoods against animal lovers who say the plan will not work and will cause suffering to badgers.
“This cull is unscientific and cruel. Badgers are innocent in the spread of bovine TB,” said Malcolm Clark, from the rural county of Wiltshire.
“There are going to be people out at night shooting badgers in the dark. They are not going to kill them humanely. Badgers are going to be running down into their sets to die in agony,” said Clark, whose wife stood next to him in a badger outfit.
Dressed in a black jacket and black shirt with thin white stripes and sporting his signature long bushy curls, the rock musician May chatted with other protesters and posed for photographs with them.
A Reuters photographer said about 200 protesters took part, some dressed as badgers, others with their faces painted black and white, holding up pictures of badgers with the words “Not guilty” and placards with slogans like “Stop this cruel cull”.
The government says the cull is “science-driven and carefully managed”. It follows a study that found culling 70 percent of badgers in an area could reduce by 16 percent bovine TB, a disease that caused the slaughter of an estimated 28,000 cattle in England last year. (Reporting by Dylan Martinez and Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)