The Red Fox, vulpes vulpes, is one the most successful mammals on the earth. In fact, it may be second only to the rat in its ability to survive and thrive in the widest range of conditions and on all continents. And, like the rat, it is an opportunist that has learned not only how to survive alongside a hostile human species, but to exploit man as a source of food.

The fox is a member of the canidae or dog family, but there are significant differences in physiology and behaviour between foxes and other members of this family, including wolves – the ancestors of our domestic dogs. As in many other species, members of the canidae will prey on each other if given a chance. Wolves will kill foxes; red foxes will kill smaller arctic or desert foxes; hounds will kill foxes.

Life is hard on foxes. Their life expectancy in the wild is normally no more than four or five years for vixens; perhaps a year or two more for successful dog foxes. Foxes must compete fiercely with each other for territory, food and breeding rights. Ultimately, an ‘ageing’ vixen may well be driven from her own territory to almost certain death by her own offspring. In a normal year, around 50% of all fox cubs born will die of starvation or disease before the end of their first year.

Foxes have always been hunted by man. Records from ancient Greece tell of the pursuit of foxes by hounds and mounted men. King Canute loved the ‘chace’. But mostly in times past foxes were hunted by poor people whose few poultry might mean the difference between life and starvation. In the Middle Ages, Peasants who could not afford to find their hen coup raided by a fox one night would band together periodically to hunt down and kill every fox they could find in their locality.

The fox survived nevertheless, and in the mid 18th and early 19th century the modern form of hunting was developed, with fast hounds capable of pursuing fast travelling foxes across a countryside rapidly being transformed by the agricultural revolution.

Today, man remains lethal to foxes in many ways. Farmers and gamekeepers control fox populations to prevent losses of lambs, poultry and game birds. An estimated 20% of all foxes that die every year are killed on the roads.

Before the ban, hunting accounted for about 5 – 10% of all fox deaths, but hunting offered something unique – the only means of control that includes a measure of natural selection. Every other method of control can and does occasionally leave foxes damaged and suffering. Hunted foxes are either killed outright or left to escape unhurt. And hunting kills the weaker, the slower, the infirm and the unfit.

Hunting is the only means of fox control that leaves the vixen to raise her cubs unmolested during the spring and summer. Hunting is the only means of control carried out by people committed not to eradicating the fox, but to preserving a balanced population of these remarkable animals in the British countryside.

The ban on hunting will not make life easier or longer for foxes. It will have the reverse effect, with greater numbers of foxes killed in the countryside, and a higher proportion of the British fox population reduced to scavenging for a living in our towns and cities, prey to endemic diseases such as mange or dying an early death among the traffic. Studies of urban foxes show that even with plentiful food available and without any form of control, the average lifespan of a town fox is around 18 months.

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