Because this wood ain’t big enough for the both of us, or something like that.
Lift the counties, parishes and street names off an English map and you stare at the raw canvas: geology that props up a mindboggling array of different habitats, further rearranged by several thousand years of agriculture. There are borders on this map that are written in scratch marks and urine, and read through a sensitive nose.
And borders mean rules. If a land smells like a particular fox – because it has left its scent all over it – then that fox claims home advantage.
Foxes take a lackadaisical approach to territory. They live in small groups – typically a mated pair, and sometimes subordinate adults – and are more hostile to foxes outside this group than to those within. Some foxes are vagabounds and wander widely across the landscape, clashing noisily with territory residents. But even those with a land of their own will trespass if the prize – a mate or extra food – is tempting enough.
I’ve been wondering for some time about the relationships between foxes in this wood. At least three dogfoxes are regular visitors, not an easy balance. A fallen larch branch has turned into a marking post – both through the glands around their mouths and the more conventional, scat-based approach. Fox urine can persist in the environment longer than the average fox lifetime, and is easily detectable even to human nostrils.
Not that it always prevents fisticuffs.
For all the arched backs, upright brushes and theatrical gestures, I doubt the quarrel has been resolved for good. This wood is simply too attractive for anything that likes to eat earthworms; the rewards outweigh the risks. When the foxes finally go to rest, another earthworm predator swoops in to take over the feast.
This is a buzzard, one of the larger birds of prey in southern England. It, too, has its ideas of territory, as do the roe deer, badgers, dormice and shrews that write their own boundaries on the map. Our world is essentially a delicate, ever-changing riddle of small and natural boundary posts.