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The Fox Is a Survivor

Updated on August 4, 2015

Illustration of the Red Fox


Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

If there was a prize awarded to an animal that has survived in the face of adversity it would surely go to the red fox, Vulpes vulpes. It has been hunted by hounds, slaughtered by game keepers and relentlessly destroyed by forestry workers. In addition to this catalogue of persecution its pelt was utilised by the fur trade to supply the demand of human vanity. The fox was present in the countryside long before man kept sheep or the advent of rearing game birds.

This handsome yet mischievous creature has long been accused of taking lambs, with the inference that the lambs were savaged in the process. Studies carried out found that foxes do take lambs occasionally, but many of the specimens were already dead or dying. There are an estimated quarter of a million foxes in Britain, therefore it is realistic to presume that if the taking of lambs were a major problem, the carnage in the countryside would be immense.

It is also true that given half a chance, the fox would kill far more game birds that it can possibly eat. The term applied to this phenomena, is surplus killing. The creature is only doing what comes naturally to it. How else would it live?. I find it to be ironic that a game keeper will slaughter the fox to protect his charges-yet only long enough for those charges to be surplus killed by guns.

The main prey of the fox is the rabbit, itself a destructive species, along with mice , voles, rats, earthworms and beetles. The urban fox will also scavenge in dustbins. To see a fox going about his business in an English wood is an amazing sight, one that is unlikely to be forgotten by anyone who loves nature. Should you be fortunate to see a vixen with her cubs, you will bear witness to a sight unequalled for its rustic charm.

I accept the need to keep fox populations under some degree of control, but 10,000 plus are thought to have died each year through hunts alone, in many cases hounded to the point of exhaustion prior to their deaths. Thankfully the practice of hunting with hounds is now illegal, although there are reports of the ban being ignored in some parts of the country. The figure quoted is thought to be on the conservative and it is likely to be much higher when other forms of culling and persecution is taken into account. Thankfully, this insidious animal seems quite capable of surviving despite the overwhelming odds stacked against it.

Swift Fox


The Hunting with Hounds Saga

Writing about the fox made me recall the the time when the debate about whether to ban fox hunting with hounds caused a split in the country between those that lived in the country side and anti-blood sport campaigners. There has never been anything more provocative than the argument over whether hunting with dogs is justified in our green and pleasant land. The debate has raised passionate arguments on both sides of the divide and continued unabated for many years (as indeed it still does) I will endeavour to put both sides of the argument to the reader. I pick up the saga by way of an article that I wrote, as the countryside correspondent, for the Ormskirk Advertiser, a local paper that attracts a large readership in West Lancashire and the surrounding districts. My own personal view became apparent on October the 7th 1999, when the article was published------" The Government's commitment to ban fox hunting with hounds has united the Countryside Alliance in such a way that it cannot be ignored. Anger is running high, not only among the hunting fraternity, but also among other members of field sports, that the Government says are safe from being banned.Why is this so?. " I have spoken to members of the shooting lobby to ask why they should be worried about a ban on hunting foxes with hounds, when it does not affect their chosen pastime at all. It was suggested that the Government's ban on fox hunting is an attempt to fragment the resolve of the Alliance by sweetening one section while destroying another. Another strong argument put forward was the logical suggestion that, once the ban is complete, animal rights groups would turn their attention to other field sports such as shooting and fishing. Indeed they say this is already occurring with the banning on lead shot being used over wetlands, because cartridges comprising of alternative shot is very expensive. Such legislation can do serious harm to shooting without actually banning it. " Kieron Moore, the chairman of the Union of Countryside Sports Workers, has been quoted as saying the U.C.S.W., does not accept that Mr Blair { the sitting Prime minister } bans hunting he will keep his promise to protect shooting and angling."

" clearly there is mistrust and suspicion among everyone involved in country sports. The fox hunting fraternity have long argued that it is the best way of keeping fox populations under control. They argue that foxes would still be culled. Speaking of Animal Rights Groups one member said--- Do these sensitive people really believe that foxes will no longer be killed?, many by indiscriminate poisoning, which would harm many other innocent species that these people profess to care for.

It is clearly an emotional issue and one that has still not gone away. As readers of this column are aware I am against fox hunting with hounds and hare coursing simply because I do not like seeing animals ripped apart in the name of "sport". However, I feel that it will be a dangerous road to travel down if the suspicion of the shooting and angling lobby are proved correct, for both groups do much good in conserving and managing habitat that benefit many species of wild life."

Hunted and Persecuted

red fox with rabbit its favourite prey..public domain
red fox with rabbit its favourite prey..public domain

Hare Coursing a Sport?

HARE COURSING is another emotive subject and the largest meeting in the country consisted of a three day event which attracted large crowds. The following paragraphs will, I hope, give the reader an insight to the local and national feeling concerning the Waterloo Cup. I start with an article that appeared in the Ormskirk Advertiser at the time.-------

the rich countryside of West Lancashire and the surrounding districts give our region much to be proud of, however, their is a blot on the landscape of which we should be ashamed. It comes in the form of an annual event staged at Altcar- the Waterloo Cup. How long has this annual atrocity been going on our door step ? The answer is too long. I am at a loss to understand how these people can justify hare coursing. It is claimed to be a field sport. Sport for whom ? certainly not for the terror stricken quarry.

This begs the question as to where they get these hapless creatures from ?. They would hardly turn up on the day as volunteers to provide these fine sports men with entertainment. Unlike the rabbit that bolts underground when danger threatens, the brown hare as two means of defence. It relies on camouflage, but chiefly relies on its powerful limbs to out run its predators. the brown hare on its own territory would, in 99% of chases, out run and out think the best dog at the meeting. Armed with this knowledge the course chosen for the Waterloo Cup is enclosed.

Both animals are doing what comes naturally to them. the hare runs and the dog chases. What is unnatural and unjust is that the balance is tipped very much in favour of the dog to such an extent that the hare has very little chance. Organisers say the intention is not to kill the hares { yet hares are torn apart at the meetings.}, but for the dogs to score points for being closest to the hare as it twists and turns to avoid capture. If this is the case, why then are the dogs not muzzled.? What a public outcry there would be if the domestic cat was employed in this sport. Yet the hare feels the same fear and pain as any other creature. The brown hare is wide spread, but its numbers are decline. It is not considered to be a pest species. It does not do harm to any other creature. It is chiefly nocturnal and when full grown, has few natural enemies , save one, a savage section of the genus Homo-sapien.

Blood Sport No Bloody Way


Crossing Swords

In response to my article came this one from Jackie Pope of the West Lancashire Countryside alliance.---" the object of hare coursing is not to kill the hares, but to test the speed and agility of the greyhounds. Only two hounds course at any one time and points are awarded for catching a hare and in an average season 7 out of 8 hares escape. If a hare is caught it is either killed instantly or an official dispatches it humanely. in both cases the hare is fit for human consumption. Hares are resident in the area and are not brought in specifically for the event. The hares are not released from cages but are driven in one by one, onto the running grounds by beaters from surrounding fields. The dogs are only released when an official in charge is satisfied that the hare is in a fit condition to run. hares and habitat are carefully conserved on the Altcar estate and research has shown that on estates where hare coursing takes place the numbers are steadily climbing. If hare coursing were to be banned it is likely that brown hare numbers would decline as they would not be tolerated due to the damage they cause to crops."-----

And so the debate raged on and in response to that letter I crossed swords again with Jackie in my column responding thus--Jackie {Pope} quotes that in an average season 7 out of 8 hares escape. By definition that means quite clearly that 1 out 8 do not! My article concluded by saying--many things are going on behind the scenes by conservationists and other concerned bodies on the brown hares' behalf. This may help to bring about the demise of the event.. It must be stated that neither the organisers or the participants are doing nothing illegal as the present law stands. yet the laws were passed over a century ago..


Attempts at Conciliation

After the February meeting of the Waterloo cup { 2000} I received an invitation from Jackie Pope Chair of the West Lancashire Countryside Alliance to visit the estate, and to see for myself the wealth of wildlife that exists there, which includes one of the largest brown hare populations in the region. Jackie introduced me to Simon and Lisa Edwards who, in partnership, farm 500 acres on the estate. Their land consists of rich arable farmland-the hares favoured habitat. I asked my hosts what effect a hare coursing ban would be on the estate? " it is ironic that the main casualty of such a ban would be the brown hare population" said Lisa " should a ban occur the estate would probably have to let the game keepers go. The amount of work left for them to do would not justify a permanent positions. this would lead to the estate becoming inadequately policed. Consequently the hares would be at the mercy of uncontrolled an illegal coursing, poaching and shooting. Also, a by product of the game keepers job in keeping vermin under control is a direct benefit to ground nesting birds such as skylarks and lapwings, two species that are in decline nationally".

Indeed I saw and heard five individual skylarks and a significant flock of lapwings during my visit. Simon pointed out a large field of carrots, where I witnessed a dozen hares feeding on the crop unmolested. On this estate the hares are tolerated, on a small family farm the damage they could inflict would certainly not be, and the populations would be culled to prevent them from becoming pests.

I sensed that the hare coursing issue, as far as the Countryside Alliance is concerned, must be defended. It is sincerely believed, that it is being targeted by the antis because it is an emotive issue and that a ban would be the first steps towards banning all field sports including angling and shooting, making the conservation work carried out by these groups another casualty. I also sensed in our conversations a great deal of passion for the countryside, and a fear of it being changed forever by a lack of knowledge of how the countryside works.

My hosts and I will always be on the opposite sides of the fence as far as hare coursing is concerned, but I do share many of their concerns and the anxieties they have about the countryside and its future.

I CONCLUDE WITH---- hare coursing has now been made illegal and the Waterloo Cup is not now an annual event.  As regards to the fox hunting Bill is concerned the saga moved on slowly until February 2005 when the Bill was finally turned into law.  Is this the end of the saga ? I very much doubt it with hunt meetings gathering in numbers far greater than before the law was passed. However, the quarry is not the fox but drag hunting. Drag hunting for the uninitiated is when is when a scent is transferred to a bundle of rags and pulled across the countryside either by a quad bike or an individual rider on horse back. After a designated time the hounds are released to follow the scent, which are in turn followed by the red coated riders shouting tallyho and the like. This is perfectly legal and reasonable, so what is the problem ? The hounds chasing the rags are hunting over the same land as they have always hunted. If a fox should be found abroad in the open country the hounds are not going to fore go their chance of live quarry to chase. A spokesman said " if a fox should be found it is only natural that the dogs will chase it. If this does occur the fox is dispatched humanely. It sounds depressingly familiar. Even more bad news for the fox is the fact that if the Conservative party win the next general election in May { which seems more likely than not } they have hinted strongly that they will repeal the Act.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      joytruthlove, thank you too, for taking the time to read and for leaving your comments. best wishes Dal.

    • joytruthlove profile image


      6 years ago

      very informative...thanks for taking the time to write it...and educate others

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      jand, hi, I don't know Vicki personally, but obviously she is well known to me, through her animal rights issues, not only here in the U.K. but her work against bull fighting in Spain. i thought you would be interested in this hub, however, I must thank you for visiting and for your comments. Best wishes to you.

    • jandee profile image


      8 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

      D.A.L I am so pleased you directed me to this superb hub.So much information-I am unable to read any more at present-bit late and will return as soon as pos.been to many of waterloo cup protests and have cracking photo-in france-of anti-cup demo. Surely you must know Vicki Moore

      very brave Vicki ?best from jandee


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