The Fantastic Mr Fox

There’s an argument raging, which seems to have been going on for eons. It’s come to the point where everyone has made their opinion, settled back down in their chairs after the initial ruckus and the same points of view are being endlessly escalated , but nothing is being resolved on. And whom do we have to thank for this quarrel? Well, this little fellow:

The red fox. A member of the dog family that is the most widespread wild dog throughout the world. The fox has been a centre of debate for years and it all comes down to whether we should hunt them or not. For some, the much called for hunting ban caused outrage, for others, a jubilant cry of joy. So, who is saying what? What are the arguments (I suspect you know some of them).

For the hunt? Foxes need to be controlled! They are a pest species, coming in here taking our chickens, ducks, geese, cats and our women! It’s tradition! Fox hunting has been practiced for years, so therefore, as history has taught us, nothing traditional could ever be wrong. They are a danger to the public and need controlling before they run riot and destroy our cities and villages. They are a threat to game estates. Foxes are likely to take those species that we would rather shoot ourselves and that is unacceptable! Despite my suggested trivialisation of these arguments, they are real and obviously have some basis, or this argument would have been resolved years ago.


Against the hunt? It’s cruel, unnecessary and down right barbaric. Can you imagine being chased for hours through the countryside by men and women on horseback accompanied by  a pack of hounds? Foxes are a delightful, charismatic species that are a joy to see in the wild. Living in rural Northumberland, it may surprise you that I have only seen a wild fox twice. I have heard a vixens calls many times, but an actual sighting is much more elusive. One argument that does have some standing in support of the hunt, is the danger of foxes to livestock. This is true and of course a fox will take chickens, ducks and geese if they are readily available (I would if I was wild, wouldn’t you?). However, if they are properly fenced in, housed and protected, there shouldn’t be a problem. I hasten to point out that I am not writing this in pure ignorance, with a number of friends of mine and my aunt and uncle losing chickens to foxes. But, I regret to say, none of their animals were properly protected. The chickens either ran free, unprotected in an open field in the middle of the countryside, or they roamed the road, walking wherever they pleased in the area, where not only were they at threat from foxes but dogs and cats! I know for a fact that if one of my dogs got into a chicken coop, he would be in absolute heaven. What’s my point? It can be avoided.

Tradition? Well it covers all manner of sins. Don’t get me wrong I love a tradition but what about witch hunting? That was tradition, slavery was tradition, dog fighting was tradition (unfortunately still is in some places), human sacrifice was tradition. Should we bring them back? I think not.

A danger to the public. Not so long ago there was a story in the news about a baby that was attacked by a fox. Of course I don’t dispute that story. It would have been terrifying for the parents and of course for the child and I am not condoning that. It was an unfortunate event, but that doesn’t make it the norm. In fact, there is another species that I would say is more threatening than the fox. The dog. Now before we make any hasty conclusions, I love dogs. Adore them even and I have two of my own. But during my life I have dealt with some pretty unfriendly and in some cases, aggressive dogs. I owned one. She was a border collie german shepherd cross called Poppy (ironic name I know). Having had a bad puppyhood of being separated from her mother and raised in a box, she wasn’t a big fan of people. Or dogs. Or cats. Or anything that didn’t belong to HER pack. Therein lied the problem. She was in charge. She needed to control, protect and lead us and she did that by any means necessary. She bit my father and brother, had several clashes with me and she had to be walked at times when I was less likely to see people. When she did, she reared up, barked, growled and slathered all over the place. Honestly? She was capable of a brutal attack. But I loved her and I kept her under control. She was never allowed near children, had to be shut away when people came over and kept on the lead unless the place was deserted. She, among numerous other dogs I have known could indeed be called dangerous.

But what’s my point? What does this have to do with the fox? Well, dogs, as a species are often in the news and the stories relate to attacks. But we don’t hunt the entire species. If wild foxes behaved like Poppy I would understand the argument. But they don’t. Typically they are secretive species that keep themselves to themselves. If anything, they keep away from people because they are frightened (and why wouldn’t they be).

And last but by no means least. A threat to game estates. Foxes will eat pheasants yes. They may eat grouse and partridge, true. But the largest part of their diet is made up of lagomorphs. Rabbits, now there is a species that has exploded. Foxes are a big predator of these species, who we also considered a threat in our gardens and allotments. The argument concerning game species is a feeble one at best. Birds make up as little as 5% of a foxes diet and again, as is the case with so many other species, are likely to take the weak and sick members of the population. And in all honesty, the idea that a species must be hunted because they are eating animals that we would rather kill for fun is slightly questionable.

Another argument I heard, was ‘why get involved?’ ‘If people want to hunt let them, you don’t have to. Let them get on with it.’ Interesting sentiment, but where would we be if we had adopted that view throughout history? World War 2 springs to mind. And another point? That foxes need to be culled because there are no natural predators like wolves to hunt them. Forgive me a cruel chuckle, because that statement is just incorrect at best. Wolves do not hunt foxes. They may occasional clash, territorially speaking, with foxes, but foxes are not a prey species.

Though I admit, it’s not as simple as all that. Politics is always involved and this is an argument that is not going to go away any time soon. There is a massive prejudice is some communities against this species and it will not be erased by a few cute pictures of cubs. There are now thought to be more urban foxes than foxes in the countryside because we have chased them out. So now we want to cull them in the cities. Can’t this species catch a break?! Have we learnt nothing from our experience with hunting other animals to extinction? Evidently not.

There is one statement from Roald Dahl that seems to ring true for both sides of the argument:

“I understand what you’re saying, and your comments are valuable, but I’m gonna ignore your advice.

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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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