Friday 27 April 2007

The one about foxes

I love foxes. I no longer keep chickens or guinea fowl so I don’t have poaching issues but even when I did, I still had a bit of a thing about those russet coats and slinky movements, those bright clever eyes. When I was a child I devoured the Enid Blyton books and, above all, craved a fox as a pet – like the boy in the ‘Adventure’ books. For several years a vixen raised her family every year on the hill beside the house and we could waste hours watching the cubs learning to pounce, rolling and tumbling in the bracken.

Yes, I love foxes. But I didn’t love the phone call we got last night about them. For a long time I’ve heard rumours of urban foxes being released into the countryside – and have, indeed, talked about it on the nature forum – but we never had any hard evidence. It was more that, every so often, we would see a fox that didn’t seem to ‘fit’. It was in poor condition and had a confused air, as if it didn’t know what it was doing. But I couldn’t lay my hand on my heart and say it was an urban fox (misplaced) rather than a rural fox (fallen on hard times). It was fast becoming a rural myth.

Last night though, we had a call from some friends who own a country house hotel (posh b&b). An RSPCA van had been seen in their area and someone had seen a number of foxes being released from it.

So far, so OK, you might think. What’s wrong with taking foxes from an urban environment and letting them go in the nice countryside, their ‘natural’ home? Well. Firstly I’d argue that the fox has adapted superbly to life in the town and is probably far better off there. When I lived in London, our house backed onto a cemetery (one of the wild ones, all gothic and overgrown) and we frequently saw foxes – including a fox cub that I discovered curled up on a catmint bush on the border. When I went out to check it was OK, the cub jumped up, fixed me with one of those bright beady eyes and then scaled the ten foot wall in a nimble hop (rather like a cat would). Funnily enough, the cemetery was also home to a gaggle of ducks – I don’t know how they rubbed along but they clearly did (I suspect scavenging is a lot easier for a fox than taking on a big plump mallard).

Secondly, introducing urban foxes to the wild is, in my mind, cruel on all counts. A rural fox’s life is tough, very tough. I don’t know if any of you ever saw the fascinating documentary about foxes v rabbits? It was illuminating. Don’t pity the poor bunnies – the odds were severely stacked in their favour.

In the case of last night’s story, the foxes had allegedly been released right next to farmland. Farmland on which there were young lambs. Mayhem ensued. The farmer was furious. Foxes were shot. Then the local foxes apparently weighed in and had a go at any of the incomers who were left standing.
Why? Why on earth would anyone do this? What is the point? My friend was furious. ‘You’re journalists. Do something!’
People always assume that, if you’re a journalist, you have a hot-line to the editor of The Times. Sadly not. But what do you do?
‘Did anyone take photographs? Film it?’
Once again, sadly not. We explained that no hard news page would take the story without clear evidence.

But why does this happen? In the nature forum, racanncat suggested that it is the urban councils who round up the foxes and ship them out (as the town dwellers fear for their cats, their tame rabbits, their toddlers, even their terriers!). But the RSPCA? Why would an organisation which purportedly has animal interests at heart, do such a ridiculous thing?
Any answers, I’d love to hear them. For today I am sad and cross and puzzled. Which is pretty much how the major protagonists in this lamentable story must feel.

btw, if anyone has evidence of this or a story to tell, do get in touch. Grouse and I would love to put together a really good story about it.

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