Neither evil nor good – the fox is just a wild animal
I've watched with interest the latest furore over foxes eating babies in London. Don't worry – this isn't going to be a column about the pros and cons of fox hunting. I honestly think we all know where we stand on that issue now.
Those for, those against, those (are there any?) who don't really care either way. Nothing I can say will make any difference to anyone's opinion on that fraught subject.
However, since I moved to my husband's family farm, I have got up close and personal with foxes in a way I never had before. So I just thought I'd add in my experiences of sharing a territory with that shadowy but much-discussed creature, known to our children as Mr Foxy.
Sighting one: John and I have gone out and my mum is babysitting. One of our collies is on heat, so all three dogs are shut away in a stable and not free to roam the farmyard. That day, Mum has acquired a huge bone from the butcher for Buster, one of the collies, who loves them.
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It is a summer evening and nearly dark. The children are in bed asleep and Mum is dozing on the sofa. She wakes up to find Mr Foxy about three feet from her, his nose pressed against the glass of the door. "We just stared at each other for a while," she remembers. Then Mr Foxy grabs Buster's bone from the verandah and is gone.
Sighting two: We get some chickens and think it would be nice to have them roaming and scratching freely about the farmyard, Beatrix Potter style. Within a week three of the six are nowhere to be found. We build a hen coop that is known to one and all as Chicken Colditz.
Sighting three: We decide to lamb our sheep later in the year, and outdoors, in a natural fashion. I look out of the window one morning and see, at the far end of a field, Mr Foxy tearing the leg off a new-born lamb. Lambing returns indoors.
Sighting four: The following year, one of the ewes who has been brought down to the ante-natal paddock by the house takes us by surprise. She gives birth early during the night, before coming into the barn. She is crying – yes, sheep really can cry – and two healthy lambs have been killed as she was delivering them. Neither is taken but both have had their heads bitten off. The mother cries all day, her udders full of milk.
Sighting five: Commotion in Chicken Colditz late one evening. We have lingered over wine and not shut the hen house door early enough, relying foolishly on the high fence. Mr Foxy is still in the pen. Snap, snap, snap – he has killed seven chickens in as many seconds, including our magnificent and fierce cockerel.
John corners him by the fence. Mr Foxy is panting, feral and the size of a medium dog. "He leaped into the air vertically, like a stag, and cleared it in one jump," he says. We vow to shut the chickens away earlier from now on.
Sighting six: One of my bottle-fed lambs is out in the paddock with some ewes and lambs, right by the house for protection. Despite being – I thought – big enough and strong too, by morning she has vanished.
Sighting seven: I am driving home in the dusk and I spot what looks like a red labrador. He turns and looks at me. It is Mr Foxy, gleaming with health. He stares insouciantly straight into my eyes, ambles across the street and leaps up into the hedge, his enormous bushy tail floating behind him like a cloud. It is only afterwards that I wish, fleetingly, that I had gunned the car and run him over.
But in that moment, all I could do was look on, fascinated to be so close to such a beautiful, and very wild, creature.
So there you have it. And in cities the situation is even more extreme. Friends of mine in London say that if they leave their back door open, Mr Foxy's urban cousins think nothing of going through their kitchen bins and raiding the bread basket. There is no doubt in my mind that a confident and fully-grown fox could, and would, attack and even kill a small, sleeping baby.
What we do about this situation is, of course, the big question. Mr Foxy isn't evil – or good, either. He is beyond all moral judgements, just doing his thing to the best of his ability.
He cannot take responsibility for the havoc he causes in our lives. It is up to us, as humans, to decide how best to deal with him. I wonder what the answer is?