A reflection by
Grahame Howard, author of 'The
Wishing Book' Series.
Her footsteps resounded on the
concrete path as she made her way to the back door. Overhead, the moon hung
in the sky like some large floodlight, illuminating the countryside around.
With breath almost frozen to her lips she reached out for the door handle as
she fumbled with her key.
“Was that a sound?” she thought
as she glanced to her right and looked into the partly shaded face of a
This was the sight that greeted my
youngest daughter as she returned home one night from a disco. To say she
entered the back door rather quickly would not be far from the truth. In
fact, to say she catapulted herself in the door would be a more appropriate
Ever since we had moved into our house I
had longed for this to happen to me. I had seen badgers and the odd
hedgehog. We had even had a herd of heifers in the yard, but still the fox
eluded my gaze.
There is something about the fox that
fascinates me. A most cunning animal by nature, the fox can be said to
possess great alertness that has enabled it to live close to human activity
without being easily noticed. Although the great fox hunting debate goes on,
the fox has managed to survive very well.
I remember a good few years ago when I
happened to be in a lime quarry in Dorset, that a hunt was going on to my
right. With hounds barking wildly and horns blowing madly, it was an awesome
sound. However, it was not so for the crafty old fox. He had managed to get
through the river and was standing in the lime, knowing full well that if
the hounds had not lost their scent in the water, they would not relish the
fine lime dust that was every where around. This was to be his saving grace!
The fox is a very playful creature,
although it may not be particularly interested in showing us these skills
voluntarily. When I was a lad, I was told about "Charming", the wonderful
strategy that the fox may use to catch a rabbit or such rodent. The story
was told of a fox rolling about the grass in order to gain the attention of
a nearby rabbit. Once the interest was there, the fox would begin to chase
its tail. All the time the rabbit, who by now was totally interested and
wondering what on earth the fox was doing, was looking spell bound at the
scene. Little by little the fox would endeavour
to get nearer until at long last, it would grab the poor unfortunate rabbit
in its jaws and makes off with it.
I grew up longing to see this sight but
alas, up to now I have been robbed of this delight.
The fox has a competitive, albeit, not
very sporting way of demonstrating its eviction powers in order to gain
living quarters. Once it has spotted suitable accommodation, such as a place
inhabited by a badger or a rabbit, it will begin its process. If the
intended dwelling is occupied by a badger, the fox will take up residence at
the entrance, whilst continually fouling this with a secretion from glands
that are under the tail. The badger, cleanly by nature, cannot abide the
mess and moves out. In the case of the rabbit, the poor thing is literally
eaten out of its home. It makes one feel so grateful at times that we as
human beings usually act in a more compassionate and caring way. However, I
can think of exceptions.
The fox is not really particular these
days about diet, in fact in order to survive, its tastes have become quite
varied and whereas rabbits may have been on top of the menu a few years ago,
it has also taken a delight in a whole variety of delicacies. Rats, mice,
voles, hedgehogs, squirrels, frogs and a host of vegetable matter being
amongst these. Ducks, geese and chickens are also on its hit list at times
where it can do malicious and questionable damage. Often I have seen the odd
fox just ambling across the local nature reserve where I go bird watching,
with a coot or moorhen in its jaws. Such are the food choices it makes these
Spring is the time when cubs are born and
their home is deep down in one of the warm earths that was prepared for this
occasion. Along with this birth comes the added pressure on the adults of
having sufficient food to feed the small cubs. Four or five cubs are a
common number born to the vixen but she only has one litter per season. For
the first month, the vixen will probably stay with the cubs, whilst the dog
supplies the endless rations of much needed food.
After they are a month old, they can often
be seen playing out in the fields, as a group. This exercise continues for a
good length of time. The vixen then teaches them hunting tactics in
preparation for their independence. By the end of summer, the cubs are able
to fend for themselves and by autumn they have left their home and begin
It is quite feasible that during the time
of teaching hunting techniques, that a vixen who has taken to poultry
killing, may teach her cubs to do the same, however it must be said that
often foxes have been known to visit poultry farms and never do any damage
Foxes have long been accused of vicious
slaughter that has also included small lambs. This in return has led to them
being sought out and destroyed. However it is now known that only a small
number of foxes kill lambs. Evidence has shown that the fox may take a poor
quality, weak lamb but often these have probably already died before the fox
got to them.
In the media just lately has been the
horrible news of a fox attacking children while they lay in their beds. As
awful as this sounds it is quite out of character for the fox to do such a
Love them or hate them, the crafty old fox
is here to stay. You may encounter one on your early morning walk. It may
well be in the middle of the countryside or even on a main road, where it
may be in the process of raiding dustbins or refuse bags that have been put
out the night before for the dust cart.
You may also stumble upon one in early
summer as it exercises its cubs, or perhaps catch one in your car headlights
as you go round the bend on your way home. Or perhaps you will witness one
as it is run to ground followed by a pack of hungry hounds belonging to the
local hunt. Whatever and wherever, please realise the red fox is a survivor.
It has been reared for this purpose and is only doing what nature has led it
to do in order to carry out these survival tactics.
© 2010 Grahame Howard
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