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Notes from the sticks: No more brushes with foxes


Another repeat this week, with some updates at the end. This article
was first published on April 4, 2021. 

FOR a change, I am going to write about something I have never seen in the seven years or so we have lived in Lancashire.

Before this we were in the south-east London suburbs of Beckenham and Bromley, and the area was stiff with foxes. I would see them just about every day, and hear them just about every night. 

I do not like foxes but a lot of people in towns do. They can be tamed to a certain extent and will come for food, as in this video.

Their cubs are cute: 

But there are far too many of them. They make a living from tearing open bags of rubbish, general scavenging and opportunistic thieving of pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs (I saw one carrying a guinea pig across our garden) and elderly or young cats. Most of the individuals you see in the streets and gardens are thin and their fur is poor. This is because sarcoptic mange, a nasty skin disease, is endemic amongst the London fox population. There was a den under the shed at the end of our garden and our dog caught fox mange, resulting in weeping itchy patches on her skin (it is worse than dog mange). The vet sorted it out but we didn’t want a repeat episode, so we rang the council. They would not come and deal with it, saying that their workers were often verbally assaulted by people who did not want the foxes harmed. (This is presumably why there is no culling policy in place, which by thinning the numbers would actually help the animals.) We called in a pest controller who brought a live trap which was in place for several nights. On each occasion the bait was taken without the trap being sprung. We gave up. As far as I remember the dog didn’t get mange again.

(In passing, I have found pest controllers to be among the happiest people I have ever met, with AA and other breakdown mechanics coming a close second. My theory is that they are treated like angels who have come to relieve deep distress – they must go home feeling satisfied that they have genuinely helped people.)

Foxes are very noisy, especially at mating time in January. But all year round they fight and scream – you could think someone was being murdered. This video gives some idea of the racket:  

When we moved to the country I assumed there would be plenty of foxes with so much wild and farmed prey available, and I was surprised when we did not see any. They are around – a friend’s hen house was raided and all the occupants killed. It is often said that foxes kill all the hens in a coop because the flapping of wings drives them into a panic, but in the video which is behind this link in case you do not want to see it, the fox appears quite calm and collected. 

I imagine that the reality is that farmers do not appreciate foxes, which will also take lambs, kids (young goats, not children), piglets, geese and ducks, and they shoot them. I should think this will account for far more foxes than hunting ever did, though I have not managed to find any figures. 

A few years ago we were in Suffolk and saw a hunt going past. It was a splendid sight. I must say I am sorry that hunting foxes was banned. I wish the hunt opponents put as much energy into much worse forms of animal exploitation such as intensive farming and use in experiments. This country is doing reasonably well in curbing abuses but internationally the situation is still dire. 


Update 1: It is getting on for three years since I wrote this article, and in that time I have seen one fox. It was a magnificent dog fox in our garden at night (it had set off a security light), with a lustrous thick coat and a full tail. It seemed bigger and certainly looked a lot more robust than the London specimens. Obviously here they keep out of sight in the natural way, not showing themselves during the day.

Update 2: Add sanitary engineers to the list of those who are happy in their work. Our downstairs lavatory works on a macerator system called Saniflo. In the recent spell of icy weather (I think it got as low as minus 6C overnight) the external pipework froze despite its insulation and the loo wouldn’t work. This has happened once or twice before and it has come back to life when the weather becomes milder. Not this time though, so we had to call out the Saniflo man. He was cheerful and charming and as near to an angel as you are likely to find.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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