BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN
When fox hunting was banned in the UK in 2005 many rural dwellers (some 17% of Britons live rurally) were livid. Meanwhile the minority of townies who even cared felt warm and virtuous imagining sweet, furry foxes roaming the vast British countryside, protected.
Certainly, there was much celebratory clinking of wine glasses in Islington. After all, they had given Fantastic Mr Fox a fine victory against pink-sporting Tories as well as those nasty farmers Boggis, Bean and Bunce. “Haha”, they cackled, hypocritically chomping on coq au vin in eateries like Granita on Upper Street (chickens acquired from a Boggis’ farm), “the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable! Awful bunch! Oscar Wilde wasn’t wrong you know!”
In the late 1860’s the English Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope observed a ‘democratisation’ of the hunting field and remarked how no rural activity did so much to bring together every type of person in the countryside: “Attorneys, country bankers, bakers, innkeepers, auctioneers, graziers, builders, retired officers, judges home from India, barristers who take weekly holidays, stockbrokers, newspaper editors, artists and sailors.” The 2005 changes to the hunting laws were a mindless attack by the town on the countryside which many in the countryside have still not forgotten, let alone forgiven.
Putting aside the tally-ho and the lash, in the countryside foxes are seen as a threat to other animals and to farming. They are a traditional quarry in the hunt for obvious reasons: better to keep the fox population down than offering a free-range hen or an intensively-reared pheasant as a quick and easy snack; better to protect lambs and sheep from foxes than risk the flock to unmanaged fox populations. Foxes find their way through fences to catch hens and when they have killed one and they cannot see the exit, they panic and kill all the birds. It makes more sense to country folk to hunt vermin than let their numbers proliferate.
In towns, foxes live in drains and in overgrown cemeteries and large gardens. They venture out at night and scrounge from dustbins. Back in 2005, while the champagne socialists of Islington were cackling and celebrating the implementation of Labour’s Hunting Act, cunning foxes were relocating to be nearer those who loved them. A citizen science initiative in 2012 found that over 90 per cent of English and Welsh towns that reported no foxes in 2001 were now home to them. The number of red foxes in urban areas of England appears to have soared almost fivefold. The rise from an estimated 33,000 in the 1990s to 150,000 today is making the townies choke on their words and even they are now describing foxes as vermin.
Poor old leafy Bournemouth has 23 foxes per square kilometre, London has 18 per square kilometre. In Brighton, the fox population is 16 per square kilometre while Newcastle is now home to about 10 foxes per square kilometre. They are injuring family pets, giving them sarcoptic mange, disrupting rubbish bins and crapping everywhere; even, on rare occasions, biting babies and other humans. There are more foxes in towns than in the countryside.
Don’t you just love karma?
Calls to pest controllers about foxes are now a regular occurrence in Britain’s cities and towns. Urban fox-caused chaos is widespread and there are increasing numbers of fox poisoning incidents. However, as townies well know, captured foxes are protected under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and it is possible to control numbers only in limited ways, such as by use of free-running snares or cage traps followed by humane execution. You can be jailed and fined up to £20,000 for causing unnecessary suffering to an animal in Britain. Townies awoken at night by fox screeching or who hate getting their hands dirty refilling waste receptacles can clamour all they want for fox extermination but daren’t leave out poison for foxes like they leave out pellets for slugs.
In towns and cities, Fantastic Mr Fox has become F****** Mr Fox in just a dozen years. Give him a dozen more and he’ll be just like those Syrian refugees you can never find in the grand houses of rich Islingtonians – welcomed on Twitter but kept out at all damn costs.
“Deport them to the countryside,” the Islington wine quaffers now insist, “Foxes are not our problem, they are a countryside problem.” And there are efforts underway to humanely remove them to rural areas but townies are no longer feeling quite so warm and virtuous. The deportations weren’t in the script. They know full well that city foxes are being dumped, dazed and helpless, on farmland – even Britain’s townie Government admits to it. Urban foxes who are used to rummaging through refuse for food suffer unspeakable – interesting word, “unspeakable” – deaths in the countryside where foxes must hunt for their prey.
Some kind of a repeal of the Hunting Act these days seems a real possibility, especially now the Islington wine quaffers are increasingly politically homeless. Even Granita is defunct these days, poor freedom-grabbing Labourites. How a rural solution set out for rural dwellers is assembled depends on the Government actually listening to rural organisations and bodies – people who know what the countryside needs – not those townies who dominate the anti-hunting lobbies, who think they have some divine right over the countryside.
Meanwhile, to keep fox-infested townsfolk infuriated, Britain’s rural population must insist that urban foxes remain urban; that the towns and cities of Britain remain meccas for Fantastic Mr Fox and his mange-infested friends. For every Boggis, Bean and Bunce there are several Townie Twits and numerous Islington Muggle-Wumps. Let them have their sweet and furry urban foxes. Let them jump out in front of their bicycles until they too are forced to hunt the buggers down. For Karma – indeed, Fox Karma – is a fine and wonderful thing.