Thursday Thoughts: Fox

Mersey with book

Rescued fox Mersey modelling my book courtesy of the Highland Fox Sanctuary

A fox has trotted past the George Orwell statue that guards the BBC’s Broadcasting House. Its image is on paper, and its soul is – I trust – glimpsed through my words. It’s October 2018, and The Hidden World of the Fox has brought to the wild to the city, and me to the media.

These foxes – nature’s orange thread woven through puddled streets that we presume to know – enchant us, puzzle us, and occasionally frighten us. I wrote Fox because their stories were worthy to be heard. I wanted to share my observations and unlock the science from the inaccessible journals where it often hides. And also, of course, to reflect on the occasional public concerns about a raw wild animal loose in a world designed for people, and promote the idea that we can find constructive ways to share space.

Three years on, and Fox is now sold across multiple continents and languages, a reminder of the species’ staggering natural range – and unshakable hold on our thoughts. Sometimes they stare at me, and I could fantasise that they know of their wider fame: Ylvis, Aesop, The Animals of Farthing Wood, modern takes on aurora myths, and so much more. But they are too busy bothering magpies, stealing dog toys and shrieking cold wrath at each other.

Foxes snow squabble 8 Feb 21

Foxes may ignore authors and scientists, but the feeling is not mutual. Research continues apace. A recent study from Spain concludes that foxes can help the beleaguered Eurasian wildcat by separating it from free-roaming domestic cats, with which it is prone to hybridise (although there will be many things that affect wildcat survival, and the study seems limited). Research in Germany examines social perception and tolerance of foxes, as did a paper that I co-authored in the UK. In the media, the likely connection between foxes and the so-called M25 Cat Killer continues to do the rounds in waves of misunderstanding.

They’re doing well enough in towns, expanding into previously scarcely-colonised British cities, but are probably in decline in the countryside. The rabbit collapse is likely to be part of that story, especially given that alternative food like voles, berries and invertebrates are under pressure from agriculture and other intensive land uses.

But there are still foxes on the edge of our world, writing something wild into our shadows.

Fox urban 18 Aug 20

15 thoughts on “Thursday Thoughts: Fox

  1. I enjoyed the interview very much, Adele. You answered the questions with aplomb!
    It seems to be the naturalist’s lot to quell the fears and misunderstandings of humans about the natural world. Sadly, the disconnect seems to be only worsening. Don’t you feel like a valiant crusader? 😉

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  2. Very good interview and, as someone already mentioned in comments, you answer all the questions spot on! I laughed when a host asked you if a fox can take down a bison 😀 I grew up in a city and in my whole life I saw foxes in wild only twice: in Croatia and Newfoundland. And even I know that’s impossible 🙂 But that gives you an insight of how much and average person living in urban areas know about wildlife. Humanity is losing a touch with nature – and not just in a narrow point of view – and that’s not going to help wildlife.
    And I really like the last photo 🙂

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    1. Thanks 🙂 Foxes often get accused of having wolf-like traits but of course they are very different in behaviour. As well as only being a fraction of the size. It has been all too apparent here, especially since covid, that it is not only foxes that are suffering from ignorance but nature in general. People seeing the countryside as Disneyland or otherwise showing a lack of empathy.

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  3. Lots to think about and the interview was most interesting. I know what you mean about the perception of nature as a kind of Disneyland. The lack of empathy is staggering and distressing though heartening to know most people value foxes.
    Although urban folk can be disconnected from nature it strikes me that country people can have quite an instrumental view of nature and animals, is in food or threat?
    It amazed me to find that my great-grandparent’s rural\village place in Gloucestershire had what appeared to be otter feet nailed to the stable and barn doors. One foot per door. No surviving family member could explain it. They seemed not to have even noticed!

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    1. Thanks Carol. How strange about the otter feet! There must be some folklore attached to that. Rabbit and hare feet have been considered ‘lucky’ (not for the lagomorph, obviously) but I’ve never heard of anything similar about otters.

      There certainly can be a utilitarian approach to nature in some rural areas, and hostility towards species that conflict with, for example, gamebird hunting.

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