Posted 22nd April 2022
Seeing a fox in the countryside is always a treat. While foxes are doing okay in towns and cities, and they are often quite visible, in the countryside their numbers are in steady decline due to several factors. Hunting and shooting certainly take their toll. Hunts are still illegally hunting and killing foxes, and the availability of night vision sights means anyone with a gun can shoot foxes all year round. Added to these pressures, the crash in the rabbit population, caused by various man-made diseases, means there is less food for fox cubs to feed on and so many will starve.
Last year was an unusual one for lots of reasons, but true to form, at the end of May, the first fox cubs started to appear on the League’s reserves. The annual appearance of fox cubs is always a cause for celebration and on Baronsdown the challenge is to find out which of the many earths they are using. Last year I searched high and low for a breeding earth, but in the end, I had to admit defeat. Nowhere could I find the tell-tale signs that meant there were fox cubs in residence. So, imagine my relief as I walked through the reserve one early June afternoon and there in front of me were three fox cubs playing on the track. They certainly had outfoxed me.
Over the next couple of weeks, I saw the cubs on a few occasions in the same area, but I never saw an adult fox. Then one day at the end of June, I looked out of my kitchen window to see a pair of fox cubs clearing up the seed under my bird feeders. I was amazed. I had seen the occasional fox passing through the garden in the past, but I had never seen cubs before.
Our vulpine visitors were a daily sight in the following days, and I could only conclude that the adults had died, and the cubs were hungry. One particular cub, with a large white tip to its tail, showed almost no fear of me. This gave me mixed emotions. It was a privilege to have a fox cub trust me in this way, but I knew if it did the same to one of our neighbours it would probably be the last thing it did. Research into fox behaviour shows that the underdog in a litter of cubs is sometimes forced to abandon its usual wariness in order to survive. This leads to stories of tame foxes being dumped in the countryside.
I continued to see the fox cub around the reserve for the next few weeks, but eventually its natural instincts kicked in and I didn’t see it again. I hope it is still here on Baronsdown and whenever a fox shows up on the trail cameras set around the reserve, I look for a white tip on its tail and I wonder whether it is ‘my’ fox. At least I have the photographs of our encounters to remind me of the special times together I enjoyed last summer. Foxes really are a cause for celebration.