During lockdown we bought some chickens which delighted the children and then shocked them in equal measure when we got home one evening and the lawn was a flurry of feathers but no chickens. When the local foxes took our replacements we threw in the towel. I couldn’t be angry with them for very long as they were just trying, like all of us, to survive. These sleek, burnished, rusty, fiery spirits both delight us and annoy us and I thought I would find out more about them.

Their name is thought to come from ‘Puk’, a Proto-Indo European word meaning ‘thick haired/tail’. Humans have always had a love/hate relationship with them. In Europe they represented cunning and trickery, in Asian cultures, familiar spirits with magic powers. They could herald both good and bad omens. In suburban England they fascinate with their dexterity, annoy with their defecation and yelping and yet provide one of the few safari experience in our urban life as we regularly grind the car to a halt in the middle of a night journey and watch a fox caught crossing a road. In turn it begins to watch us watching it until it slinks off, presumable neither feeling threatened or very interested.

The red fox, Vulpes vulpes, is the most common worldwide and there are 11 other main species, with 47 sub species, ranging in habitat from the coldest, snowy regions of the world to African desserts. Some are so specific to a region that they live only on small islands or in a single National Park. They are the second most ubiquitous mammal in the world after humans.

Apart from dogs and man, the only natural predators are eagles and lions, and they have become one of the very few animals to thrive in urban settings. In fact, in the wild, a red fox might live for three years but twice as long in a city. They are omnivores like humans, eating anything going: insects, eggs, berries, apple cores, rodents and of course left over takeaways.

There range can really vary, from a few hectares in a town to over 4000 in the Highlands. They generally sleep during the day, though since I’ve been in England I’ve seen them more and more in daylight. They live in dens under the ground, or under garden sheds, with multiple getaways in case of invaders. During Winter they use their tail, ‘brush, as a cover to keep warm. As a group they are called many different words: Skulk, leash, earth or pack. They stay together as a couple for life and live in a family that can have different lairs including a breeding lair. The male can share his den and be sexually active with more than one female adult. Some of the females, left over from previous litters, aren’t breeders, and have the role of being ‘nannies’ to the new cubs.

The vixen has a litter per year between 1-6 cubs and after about 5 weeks the cubs venture out though they are still cared for over the Summer by their parents. By Autumn they leave the den and disperse.

It is often wondered how they live alongside cats and the answer is cat’s ferocious claw techniques frighten them off. They have great hearing and can hear rodents digging away underground. They make over 28 recognisable sounds which has made me want to start listening to them more closely. Last fact- they can run between 30-45 km per hour!

There is an ongoing debate about their ecologically impact. It has been calculated that they save farmers 7-9 million pounds in killing rabbits, yet cost farmers 9.4 million pounds by attacking young lambs. In Australia they have decimated native mammal populations that had no natural defences. Certainly the anti-fox hunting protests showed that they are an animal that sparks strong emotions. I wonder too if, with our comfortable, manicured life indoors, they remind us of our hand to mouth nomadic past, where life was more on a knife edge, yet also more free,  weaving a living under the stars.

By |2024-01-26T10:58:31+00:00January 26th, 2024|Articles, Blog|Comments Off on Foxes

About the Author:

In 2006 I formed Glorious Gardens, gathering together skilled practitioners to offer not just design but implementation of these designs and maintenance packages where we could look after the gardens once we had created them. Throughout my career I have designed gardens to inspire people with the heart aching beauty of nature, with shapes, colours, moods and proportions to pleasure the body and calm and delight the mind. I am also an artist who works with colour and abstract shapes and I bring this sensitivity to the 4 dimensions of a garden. I am very good at listening to clients and I’m able to draw out the essence of what a client wants for their outdoor space.