Urban foxes! Love or hate? For or against? A subject that seems to wind people up easier than Donald Trump's hairstyle.
For the past 7 years or so I've contributed a regular monthly wildlife article to my parish magazine. During this period I've only twice received formal feedback, on both occasions relating to my mention of urban foxes. In both instances I had the temerity to suggest having foxes in your garden should be regarded as something of a privilege and that people should consider themselves fortunate indeed to have these red coated canines sharing their lives. This upstart attitude to wildlife has not found favour with a certain lady, who on the first occasion wrote a letter to the magazine criticising my cavalier stance and on the second, a couple of weeks ago, telephoned my house to complain in person about my irresponsible remarks. Luckily (for all parties I feel) I was not home at the time and my wife suffered the tirade. She handled the situation with calm and courtesy until the caller referred to her as 'my woman' at which point she unleashed both barrels effectively terminating further discussion. I’ve been on the wrong end of that particular tempest a few times and it would have been fun to have witnessed someone else falling foul of an ill chosen word. It was worth a chuckle nevertheless.
People have opinions on wildlife and I respect that, but why some feel compelled to become so negatively animated over certain subjects perplexes me. 'They're vermin' seemed to be this lady's favoured phrase, but as the missus pointed out they are an indigenous wild animal simply exploiting the opportunities urban habitats offer them. ‘They kill things’ was another allegation but once again it was put to her that so do blue tits, robins and blackbirds which the old gal willfully accepted she liked and fed. Think about that for a second: a blackbird pulling a worm from your lawn, tugging with all its might to separate the poor creature from the soil and then chopping it up into bloody bite sized chunks before carrying it off to its young; the songthrush bashing the brains (and everything else) from a snail; spiders injecting prey with toxins that turn their insides to mush. Horrific? I should say so, but accepted as a part of nature. But the fox hating dwellers amongst us don't see it that way; they see instead a dirty, chicken devouring scapegoat that will steal their babies and spread disease. It is something of a puzzle to me that the very assets that have allowed the human race to plague the globe are despised when attributed to another animal. Foxes are considered sly; by this we mean wily, adaptable and able to thrive in seemingly inhospitable places. Human beings summed up in a sentence. As we have already learned, foxes are considered vermin by some; by which we mean successful, populous and able to kill efficiently. Such a negative term for attributes we cherish in ourselves. Conversely those egg taking, cable chewing, roof felt munching alien grey squirrels are deemed to be cuddly rascals whilst our poor fox is, alas, forever cast as a villain out to deprive us of the ability to share our world with bunnies. It seems to me unfair and illogical but some people are so entrenched in their opinions about such things - foxes, sparrowhawks, otters etc - that no amount of reasoning will sway them.
Whenever I see a fox around my parish, furtively scuttling across the road late at night or occasionally basking in the sunshine at the bottom of the garden, they always strike me as being a touch scrawny, stunted and scruffy. And I think compared to their country cousins they are indeed less well presented. And that's not really surprising when you consider the kind of lifestyle they are forced to lead; scavenging scraps from discarded KFC cartons, raiding bins for slim pickings, perhaps a bit of roadkill here and there. A banquet would be a nice plump wood pigeon but they, despite their clumsiness, are not always easy to catch. And then there are all those dogs and cats and people and cars to dodge. They also have to find somewhere safe to hide up and raise their young. Not easy when so many folk take against them. They really are leading life on the edge and deserve more of our respect. In fact if we put aside the current irresponsible, pathetic assault this environmentally bereft government is making on our badger population, foxes must be our most persecuted mammal; legally hunted, shot, snared and otherwise dispatched for centuries. Yet still these tough survivors are numerous and widespread; testament indeed to their ability to eke out a living against steep odds.
Their penchant for chickens is often cited as a reason for hate, but I have a slightly different take on this. Firstly why the bloody hell would anyone living in a city want or need to keep chickens for any other purpose than a jolly wheeze? And secondly if your coop is raided and you wake up to nothing but a pile of feathers where Hetty once clucked, then clearly you didn't build it well enough in the first place. In this way foxes drive people to better consider the welfare of their charges and provide them with dwellings more fit for purpose. Add in the simple fact that if you have chickens you will attract rats - there is no maybe about that, you will attract rats - tends to militate against anyone being allowed to keep chickens in an urban environment. But then maybe the foxes will provide a welcome service of eating the rats so a tidy balance will be achieved. Honestly folks it is much cheaper to satisfy all your poultry hankerings by a trip to your local butcher.
Personally, I love the way in which foxes have now become an established part of our local fauna and look forward to the day they decide to build a den under the shed. It would be thrilling to have a gang of young foxes gamboling across the lawn during the summer, and if this happens I'll feel bound to write about it in detail in the parish magazine. Man the barricades!