Nature conservationists frequently come into direct conflict with the practical needs and aspirations of hunters and farmers. When that conservationist is a deep-pocketed former rock-and-roll star, this issue receives significant media coverage, thereby making it more than a mundane episode in the endless drama between man and beast.
In the United Kingdom, the former lead guitarist of 1970s and 1980s super-group Queen, Brian May, has outraged some dairy farmers by purchasing property in Dorset in southern England that will serve as a safe haven for badgers, the short-legged weasel that have been blamed for spreading disease to local cattle.
May, a millionaire many times over, bought 155 acres of land in the village of Bere Regis, near the town of Wareham, that he intends to convert into an “ecological sanctuary” for wildlife, the Daily Telegraph reported.
May will, in effect, prohibit local farmers and others from killing badgers in a mass cull.
However, neighboring dairy farmers complain that the badgers are responsible for bovine tuberculosis, a bacterial disease that affects cows, other livestock and deer.
“It is incredibly frustrating. This is someone with lots of money buying land in an area where farmers are losing their livelihoods,” Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), said, according to the Telegraph.
“It is extremely frustrating to have someone [May] deliberately trying to circumvent farmers trying to find a solution to a serious problem.”
Ian Johnson of the NFU's South West branch also piled on the legendary rocker.
"Brian May is a brilliant musician ... but in the matter of animal welfare, he should not jump into the argument,” he said, according to Star Magazine.
“We have a huge animal welfare problem with bovine TB and we need to deal with the disease."
Farmers also scoff at May’s suggestion that he may seek to develop a vaccine to fight the disease, citing instead that the badgers need to be exterminated immediately.
The Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs is currently supporting the farmers, having already approved two cull programs for this summer, perhaps in Somerset and Gloucestershire, and in other parts of Southwest England and Derbyshire.
Star Magazine reported that a local farmer in Dorset, who lives in proximity to May’s proposed wildlife sanctuary, complained: "It will probably make it [the problem] worse. ... Infected badgers [on protected land] infect other badgers and then re-infect [cattle] herds. ... A lot of people who follow him [May] are perhaps not rural people who do not understand why we have to do this."
In response, a spokesman for May said the guitarist -- who also wants to plant 100,000 trees on the property -- won’t do anything without consulting with his neighbors.
“I come from a place of playing guitar and music, but there’s always been a concern about animals,” May himself told a group of supporters in Bere Regis, The Daily Echo reported.
“The basic philosophy is that this land used to be forest hundreds of years ago and it would make a wildlife corridor and link on with the wildlife meadow. We have a wonderful possibility to make an environment which our children and grandchildren will grow up and enjoy as human beings in harmony with animals around them. I’m hoping what we will get is better than what you would have got with hundreds of houses being built. I want to know what people in the village think, if you approve and want to hear your thoughts.”
May, who earned a PhD in astrophysics from Imperial College London in 2007, has long served as a vociferous proponent of animal rights, including seeking a ban on fox-hunting.
Last month, he thundered on his Twitter account: “The [government] is going ahead with the badger cull this summer ... Yes, in spite of everything, you should all be clear that the government, hand in hand with the NFU is going ahead with the badger massacre.”
May added: "British cattle farming, already hugely subsidized by the taxpayer over the last few years, has got itself into a TB disaster situation. I believe that, by succumbing to pressure of 'We have to do something', they are about to make the situation much worse. A tragedy for all.”
The man who wrote or co-wrote such hits as “We will rock you” and “Under pressure” then warned that the badger culls might even “decide the next general election and the whole future of farming."
May also assured the crowd at Bere Regis that his wildlife initiatives conceal no nefarious motives.
“I’ve had links with this area for years, I even have ancient relatives who were dairy farmers in Dorset,” he said. “This piece of land is one of a couple of areas I invested in about 12 or 13 years ago. I have no agenda here, I’m not trying to make money or get famous. This is not for profit gain or greed, just to make a better environment for all creatures on this planet.”
West Dorset District Councilor for the area Peter Wharf welcomed May’s plans.
“It’s excellent, this is a brilliant idea and will go well with all the other projects in the village, the public are really behind it,” he said.
Knowing full well that many in the public harbor skepticism and even resentment over millionaire celebrities, May told BBC: “There are plenty of people who want to discredit me and I have become accustomed to that, and these are mainly people who want to continue hunting or people who are convinced a badger cull is going to solve the TB problem in cattle which I'm convinced it won't. … We are very sincere. Why would I give myself this grief if I didn't sincerely believe that I was doing some good?"
According to the British Wildlife Center, there are an estimated 300,000 adult badgers in the country – about 50,000 are killed annually on the roads and an additional 10,000 are still killed by illegal baiting.
Ironically, under UK laws, badgers are a protected species.
According to TheRichest.org, May has a net worth of about £85 million ($132 million).