TV wildlife man Howie Watkins will be joining the Pro-Test rally supporting the controversial Oxford University animal laboratory today (Sat).

Mr Watkins, who best known for his role on the BBC's Really Wild Show children's wildlife programme, has criticised animal rights group Speak, for opposing the laboratory.

He said: "The Oxford laboratory will be a modern facility that will allow research animals to be kept according to current best practice.

"If it were not built, a step forward in animal husbandry standards would be prevented.

"I care about animal welfare and that's why I want to see captive animals well looked after.

"This doesn't just apply to research animals but to animals on farms, in zoos and kept as pets in people's homes.

"Arguments about whether experimenting on animals is justified and whether medicinal drug development should be left to private pharmaceutical companies are important, and should be debated, but they confuse the issue here. If the university ceased work on the new laboratory it wouldn't bring us any closer to answering these ethical questions. It would, however, prevent an important step forward in animal care standards.

"Far more animals suffer at the hands of incompetent and uncaring pet-keepers who do not know or care about animal husbandry than suffer in Britain's research laboratories. We need to look at the big picture and support all efforts to improve welfare standards for captive animals."

Speak spokesman Mel Brough- ton said: "I think his comments are uneducated. He should take a long look at the undercover video footage taken in research laboratories. All the evidence shows animals suffer in laboratories."

Oxford University spokesman Ruth Collier welcomed Mr Watkins' comments. She said: "The UK has the strictest regulations in the world on the welfare of animals used in research, and the university's new facility will go above and beyond those. It is not being built to expand our use of animals, but rather to rehouse the animals we do use in a building that will be better."

The Pro-Test rally starts at 11.45am in Parks Road.