With a London population numbering over 10,000, it’s clear the urban fox is here to stay. But it’s a night visitor that divides people: a few years ago I wrote to my local paper in SW London, vociferously attacking the band of rust-coloured vermin that patrol my local streets at night, causing my children to wake up in fear, ripping open dustbin bags and even boldly entering houses to steal leather.
I hadn’t intended my email to be published; rather I was suggesting they write a piece about this metropolitan menace. But, lo!, my email appeared verbatim on the letters page and I was a vilified vixen over the following weeks, receiving the sort of hate mail that Wandsworth residents normally reserve for child killers.
Where exactly do Londoners draw the line between fluffy sentimentality and practical objectivity when it comes to vulpes?
Fox cubs are cute – there’s no denying that. But, believe me, there’s nothing cute about walking down my street on a Tuesday morning and finding a trail of domestic detritus as soiled nappies, potato peelings, eggshells and discarded takeaway chicken compete for space on the pavement. What’s more, this has to pose a health hazard, attracting rats to the area.
The bin men can’t do anything about it; I just want to know how the foxes know it’s Monday night and therefore time for a rubbish rampage.
The fox’s leather fetish is another hazard. Bold as brass, they are happy to come into houses at night if a door or window is left open. They dragged one of our shoes away one night; on another, when I’d foolishly left an upstairs window open, they got in via a small roof on the floor below and stole my purse from my office desk, two days before I was going on a Far Eastern holiday. They also took a lariat necklace strung with semi-precious stones.
But, for me, the most heinous crime was breaking into the hutch containing our children’s guinea pigs then, on the following night, leaving their dismembered bodies scattered around local gardens. Somehow, had they killed to eat it wouldn’t have been so difficult to bear. And to those who regard these pests as charming night-time visitors all I can say is this: you can’t have been woken night after night by the sound of foxes screaming in the street. Blood-curdling is an understatement.
Faced with the British public’s fondness for all things canine, our local council in Wandsworth proved to have no teeth when we asked what could be done. And the National Fox Welfare Society would claim that, if you engage the services of one of London’s fox ‘wildlife managers’ to kill local foxes, all you’re doing by removing a fox is creating a vacuum for another fox to fill and lining the pockets of pest control companies in the process.
You are not allowed to put down poison in your garden in case domestic pets inadvertently eat it (fair enough), but neither is the council prepared to do anything to cull this invasion. In some boroughs, however, advice is given on how to identify areas where foxes may be nesting, how to discourage them by limiting overgrown areas and advocating the use of repellents.
Cuddly and cute they may be, but isn’t it time for a cull?