HUNTING foxes always struck me as a cruel and ridiculous pursuit, but time can make a hypocrite of us.
It’s not that I now support those mounted posh people who want to wear pink, colour-coded to match their porty faces, and blow bugles while their hounds tear foxes apart. It’s just that we are plagued with foxes in our garden.
Next door’s plot is abandoned and has become an accidental nature reserve, an urban Serengeti filled with brambles two-fingers thick and six-foot tall.
The other week, looking down from an upstairs window in our semi, I saw six or seven foxes up close to the neighbour’s conservatory. Three generations, at a guess. They stared back for a defiant vulpine moment, then turned to trot back into the thickets.
At night they enter our garden to dig holes in the veg patch, excavate around the roots of apple trees, upend some plants, and to sit on others, flattening the feathered leaves of delicate grasses, say.
I know all this as my wife the gardener angrily points out these incursions on her territory. Sometimes the morning after rampant and noisy sex. No, not us; the foxes. As a feature in the Observer put it last October, “Many people don’t like foxes because they’re opportunistic scavengers, unclean, and make a lot of noise having sex.”
According to the Natural History Museum, “Red foxes are very vocal compared to other fox species. They use barks, whines and throaty noises for a number of communication purposes, from conversations with their young to alarm calls and aggressive ‘gekkering’.”
One of those “communication purposes” seems to be waking up restless people who are trying to sleep in a nearby attic. It’s a fox orgy out there some nights.
Then again, I made a lot of noise that time in the deckchair. It was a hot afternoon and surrendering to that canvas sling of material had seemed like a good idea at the time.
As my doze tipped towards something deeper, there was a terrible clamour. The cat had been napping too but a fox had wriggled under the hedge to where she’d been stretched out. The cat yowled and hissed; the fox made some horrid foxy noise. There was a stand-off, but not engineered by me, as I was still trying to get out of that deckchair.
The fox shot off, and the cat flattened her cross spires of fur, and rearranged her old bones, seeking to find again the comfort she’d just lost.
Quoted in that Observer feature, Professor Dawn Scott, executive dean for Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, said cats were far more likely to chase away foxes than the other way around.
“Cats nearly always win,” she said.
Good on cats. Although at 16, our cat is old and outnumbered.
A few years ago, before the foxes decamped to the wilderness next door, they set up home at the end of our garden, tunnelling into the soft sandy soil. We’d dug a pit for a bonfire, in the days when we still lit those, and the foxes carried on digging the hole we’d carelessly left there.
Eventually, we used BBC Radio Four to evict these unwanted tenants. On reading that foxes don’t like hearing human voices at night, I put batteries in an old radio and left it on at night by the mouth of the tunnel.
Some suburbanites love seeing urban foxes, others regard them as a menace. You can put me down under ‘menace’.
We are blocking up their routes into our garden when we spot them, but this may be futile as foxes are resourceful and can climb. In 2011, as the Shard skyscraper was being built in London, a fox was said to have moved in on the seventy-second floor, surviving on food scraps left by workers.
Foxhunting was banned in England and Wales in 2004, and a good thing, too. But nobody seems to have found a way to ban foxes from our garden.