Public support for the pilot badger culls is increasing, according to a YouGov survey.
The poll of 2,122 adults, taken as the culls restarted, showed 36% of those surveyed were in favour of the culls this year, up from 31% in 2012.
But opposition to the culls still holds the majority vote, at 42%, despite the upward trend of people coming out in favour of the controversial policy.
Meanwhile, a separate YouGov survey carried out at the end of August showed an 11% rise in the number of Conservative voters polled who were backing the cull, now at 57%.
However, the poll showed public confidence in the government’s ability to handle bovine TB had also fallen to 15% from 25% in 2012.
Despite lowering public trust in the government to deal with the situation well, a Defra spokeswoman said “doing nothing was not an option”.
The badger cull is part of the government’s approach to make England TB-free. The strategy also includes testing and controlling TB in herds, cattle movement restrictions, badger vaccination and improving farm biosecurity.
Last year marksmen removed about 1,800 badgers across both Somerset and Gloucestershire. This year, they will have to cull at least 316 badgers in Somerset and 615 in Gloucestershire to meet the target of removing an estimated 70% of the badger population.
Defra secretary Liz Truss said that, as England had the highest rates of bovine TB in Europe, the cull was vital for the future of the beef and dairy industries, and for the nation’s food security.
She said the government had learned from year one of the pilot culls and implemented advice offered by the independent expert panel.
“We have made changes to improve the humaneness and effectiveness, including better training and monitoring,” added Ms Truss.
NFU deputy president Minette Batters said the rise in cull supporter numbers showed the increasing recognition and understanding by the public of the impact TB was having on farms and farming families.
“We know that the public have a great deal of empathy and support for farmers and the role they play in producing high-quality, traceable food,” she added.
“We also understand that the policy is controversial and that some people will never support the culling of badgers – even though it is an essential part of disease eradication.”
But Dominic Dyer of the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild insisted there was “no doubt” that public concern for the badger cull remained “extremely high”.
He also accused the government of ignoring independent scientific advice that concluded the culls were both inhumane and ineffective.