Tuesday, April 13, 2021
HomeNewsNotes from the sticks: No more brushes with foxes

Notes from the sticks: No more brushes with foxes

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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. 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. 

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More from the world of ducks: I left you last Sunday with one out of a brood of five ducklings still alive. Most unusually, both parents looked after it – I have never seen a drake taking the remotest interest in ducklings except to attack those which are not his own – and I thought that with double the protection it might do well. But by Thursday morning it had gone. Meanwhile the white mallard drake (alias the White Supremacist) which I first mentioned in February has taken up regular residence again with his mate. I got this picture of them relaxing on the paving beside our stream on Friday. 

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In January I reported on the emerging flowers of the Scottish variety of butterbur, Petasites albus, which has white flowers. This is the picture I took in woodland near us at the beginning of March. 

Now the flowers are nearly gone and the large leaves are growing well. I took this picture yesterday.

Meanwhile at last the English variety (Petasites hybridus) has put forth its (less conspicuous) pink flowers, and the leaves are starting to show. 

The charming white flowers in the picture are wood anemones or windflowers (Anemone nemorosa). The long leaves are wild garlic (Allium ursinum), which are delicious chopped or cooked. See here for some ideas. Unlike many wild plants it would be hard to confuse them with anything else, because they smell strongly of garlic, so you don’t need to worry about poisoning yourself.

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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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