Opponents to the badger cull still outnumber supporters and most Britons think it’s been handled badly, but opposition appears to have softened since last October
A Somerset protest camp opposing the badger cull was evicted this week, as anarchists claimed responsibility for an arson in Portishead which destroyed a £16m police firing range. The incidents evidence the passion of many involved in the debate over the cull, which is already underway and is expected to kill 5,000 badgers in Somerset and Gloucestershire over the next six weeks. Many farmers and the government claim the badger cull is necessary to curb bovine TB, but opponents say it is inhumane and question the scientific basis for the policy.
New YouGov research reveals that more Britons still oppose the cull than support it, although opposition appears to have decreased slightly since October 2012.
Opponents outnumber supporters of the cull, by 42%-35%. However this marks a softening of opposition since October 2012, when the cull was set to start but was subsequently delayed until this summer. Then 44% thought the cull should not go ahead and only 31% thought it should.
The relatively small shift in opinion away from opposition to the cull comes despite extensive campaigning against it, including a June 2013 protest in Westminster led by Queen guitarist Brian May.
There is some variation of support among voters from different regions – although those who live in the South of England (excluding London), and are therefore most likely to live in areas affected by the cull, are only slightly more opposed than the nation as a whole (44%-33%), according to the August 28-29 poll.
But the greatest divisions run along political lines. While half (50%) of Conservative voters want the cull and only 28% do not, over half (53%) of Labour voters want the cull to be stopped and only 26% want it to go ahead. Lib Dem voters and UKIP voters also tend to oppose the cull – albeit more narrowly, by 44%-36% and 47%-39%, respectively.
Conservative MP and Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has been one of the policy’s most passionate proponents in Parliament and the cull is supported by the coalition government.
Overall, those who think the govenment has handled the issue of badgers and bovine TB 'badly' outnumber those who think it has handled it 'well' by a two-to-one ratio (52%-25%). Disapproval is virtually unchanged since October (from 53% to 52%), although the number of people who think the government dealt with the issue well has increased from only 13%.
The badger cull was initially planned for the summer of 2012 but was delayed because of the Olympic and Paralympic games. The government postponed it again in October (several days after YouGov’s October poll was conducted) following a request of the National Union of Farmers, a group who strongly favour the cull but thought October was the wrong time for it.