Cartoon by Ralph Underhill

urban fox


I am much more likely to see a fox when I spend the night in London than I am around my own rural home.  I remember seeing two London foxes in a car park one evening and I watched them for a good few minutes because they were so close, so tame and so beautiful.  It was impossible to think of them as ‘vermin’ or a ‘pest’ – rather, they were a welcome part of nature that had adapted to city life (possibly better than I do on my visits).

Foxes have sharp teeth – I noticed that.  If they occasionally bite us then we shouldn’t be that surprised – after all we have been chasing them around and killing them, and trapping them, and shooting them and poisoning them for years. And I think it is too much to think that urban foxes will be urbane foxes – they are wild creatures.

I’m always amused, but maybe it’s because I don’t understand it properly, at the number of paintings on sale at the Game Fair depicting foxes dressed as people and sitting around chatting at the dinner table.  This is always explained as stemming from the huntsman’s respect for the fox and that thinking of cunning Reynard in this way is part of the respect.  No doubt foxes hang pictures of huntsmen living in holes in the ground on their own walls for similar reasons – or maybe not?

But which species, if any, could do with a re-brand?  Maybe cormorants should dye their spiky hair pink to get a better press? Should slugs be known as shell-less snails – or maybe the vulnerable molluscs? Badgers maybe should re-brand to ‘helpful rural advisors’ and sparrowhawks to ‘sick bird euthanasia operatives’?

But the species most in need of a re-brand is our own.  I’ve written before, in various places, that it strikes me as unwarranted that we gave ourselves the name of Homo sapiens where sapiens means wise.  We should be Homo fatua – foolish man.  Of course, brand change, or brand shift, isn’t really about changing the name or the logo, but changing the image of an entity and the best way to change an image is to change what you actually do.  Foxes are as likely to lose their cunning as they are to lose their teeth, and people are as likely to lose their foolishness as they are to lose their pubic hair.


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29 Replies to “Cartoon by Ralph Underhill”

  1. Hmm... perhaps you're too young to understand everything about human physiology Mark! Or perhaps you haven't seen many naked "wise old men" recently!! Wisdom and hair loss may go together.

  2. Number crunching (P.E)

    4 fox attacks on children in the last 10 years leading to a call for a cull of foxes

    6,000 dog attacks on children each year - not leading to a cull of dogs

  3. The much maligned fox. Typical that the Daily Mail et al jump on the bandwagon to to try to ensure this creatures demise. Why is that the cull is the answer to the problem? And why is it so many people fail to understand ecosystems functions? We seem to think that if we remove the problem that it will go away, rather than realising that the gap left will be filled by more foxes! Thank goodness for the vociferous support of foxes from people like yourself, Professor Steven Harris and Chris Packham in trying to quell thetide of knee jerk, ill judged opinions of people like Boris Johnson who seem to lust after the sound of the hunting horn, the howl of the fox hounds, and a damn fine tipple after hunt. You are more likely after all to be bitten by a person or someone else's dog, are we going to cull either of those?

    1. Johnson, like all politicians, lusts after (among other things) a majority of ballot papers with a cross against their name fluttering into the box.

  4. A first step in our rebranding....

  5. I always wonder in cases of "fox attack" whether the people concerned (or neighbours) feed their local fox.
    We tend to give gulls chips and then get surprised when they come a bit closer to take the chips themselves! Some people, I am sure, feed foxes, and I suspect are really pleased when they actually venture closer. Then the fox comes to get the food which we haven't given it and we throw our hands up in horror.
    Try hand feeding a great white shark for long enough and maybe you'll end up with one arm........wild means wild.......foxes are not pets (usually).

  6. What annoys me is the fact that most of us don't consider the fact the problem lies with people and not the animal, bird, fish that we suddenly want to control or put pay to. Why can't we see that our activities affect wild animals etc. We create the problem then go, oh that's gone wrong lets destroy it.

  7. Foxes? Well... We keep free range hens in our (largeish) suburban garden (on the edge of countryside) and we have foxes visit unfortunately. Can't say I like to see them in the garden personally and can't say I appreciate our neighbours feeding them (as they do, nightly).
    But perhaps next doors titbits keeps their thieving snouts out of our coop I spose?
    Nope, not fond of foxes but even I wouldn't want to cull them (or see the point of any fox cull either).

  8. Hello Mark, you seem to have caused a debate with the fox issue, but that is the reason for raising the issue. Perhaps humans are too "civilised" to consider themselves as just another life form? As we seem to be the only species which directly affects other forms, by deliberately destroying habitats, then just maybe we have lost the plot? People who raise wildlife issues are still in the minority. It is not too long ago that people who care for their environment and the wildlife that share it with us were called "green" as if caring was not "normal." The majority of people do care but most cannot be bothered speaking up, they think it is someone elses problem. NO people, it is in YOUR interest to speak up, not just for OUR environment but for wildlife and habitats as well. The Environment is not somewhere above you, it is all around and we all need it to be safe and clean or we would not be here. The people who are "green" are those people who do not understand or listen. Does that remind you of a certain government? Here,s hoping for an improvement. Improving matters does not necessarily have a cost but not improving DOES.

  9. Mark I never realised that the occassionally fox attack was revenge against us humans for all the years of hunting and so what if they carry rabbies and other horrible diseases at least they look cute!
    But I bet even you would get a little bit cross if one bit the digets off of your infrant?

  10. Maybe some of us are different species, more 'culturally' evolved 'Homo environmentis' ? 😉 certainly my ancestors shot, hunted and fished. I don't, I'm veggie on ethical and environmental grounds, am I more 'evolved' than them. I hope so.

  11. I remember pulling up in Brentford whilst in my lorry on a night out on some retail park where there was a particular chain of drive-thru fried chicken franchise and people were feeding chicken skin to four foxes from their car windows I know too how the good people of Oxfordshire throw scraps out for Kites and I suppose in some respect it's no different to those who feed gulls.ducks and swans down the park pond, it introduces people to nature who might not have normally gone out of their way to observe nature etc. But it does come I think with two downsides, 1) people often forget (no signs to remind them lol) that they are wild animals and if they feel threatned and are bold enough will attack to defend themselves, how many times do you hear about swans pecking at people for example 2) It does effect the animals behaviour, Kites in Oxfordshire I feel are not as wary of people as lets say the my local population of Kites, we've seen images of foxes climbing through peoples windows etc.
    Dare I say the persons involved in the latest fox biting incident got what they deserved? I mean who leaves their back door open in the night during what was a very cold night, if you're hot turn down the thermostat or expect nature to bite back...literally.
    As for any culls in urban areas, it won't happen regardless what any MP may scream and shout for. How will it be done, gun! In an urban area, that will go down well with public safety and public liability and as for poisons, pest controllers have already said it will be impossible because of the risk of secondary poisoning to cats/dogs etc and again in the modern era of compensation claims theri public liablity insurance would either rocket or in some cases not cover them at all.
    Wez I agree with what you say about the number of fox bite versus dog bites and the apparent difference in the response, sadly it's not strictly true. After a serious of fatal dog attacks the government of the day introducded the Dangerous Dog act in response to public outcry, and there were alot of dogs destroyed as a result and if a dog does draw blood it does get put down.

    1. Douglas - many thanks. I am a bit uneasy about feeding foxes and kites - for some of the same reasons that people throw stones at condors (see But getting close to nature is great - and many children must have been hooked by feeding wildlife.

  12. " what they deserved"?!
    No-one "deserves" to have their kids finger(s) bitten off. Whether by a fox or a domestic dog, no matter what, but certainly not because they allegedly left a door open on a cold night.
    That's very "slippery slope" ground Douglas.

  13. Ah but Doug, I know the area in which the family live very very very well, they were lucky it was a fox and not some smack head after their TV/Game consoles and car keys leaving there door unlocked and open. I would love to know what came first the housing transfer request or the fox attack? They were moved very quickly!! Why? Any evidence of a fox attack? NO. I, knowing the area very well, I know of the problem of bull terriers in the area, did the press mention that? My cousin lives four streets away, so I've heard some dodgy rumours which i will not go into here but all is not clear cut in this case.
    Did they deserve to have their childs finger bitten off? Probably not, did the fox know any better, definatley not.

  14. Mark I just track backed to your blog post and totally agree with the USA approach, I mentioned on here about a family BBQ in Oxfordshire where as soon as it was lit Kites came swooping in, that was only down the road from Watlington and is the reason I cringe when I see the feeding of such animals/birds and is no different to feeding birds in our gardens, ok you're not going to get savaged by a Blue Tit but we have helped spread diseases from dirty bird feeders etc, so where do you draw the line?

  15. Big fan of yours Mark and generally a lover of all wildlife, having lived in Bromley until recedntly though, I feel I have to add something to this debate. I grew up in suburban Birmingham and there were often foxes in th garden, occasionally they were quite bold. In Bromley, however, they are like a different species! At any time, day or night, you could open the back door and there would be a minimum of two foxes in the garden. If you clap your hands they run towards you. They are much bigger than any foxes I have seen previously. I often had one brush right past my leg as it crossed the road or walked past me.

    In June 2007 I contacted Bromley council to ask if they even knew how many foxes there were and if they had any policy for managing numbers. The pest control team phoned me back to say they were now receiving upwards of 2000 calls per year about them, they frequently mauled cats (including my next door neighbour's, witnessed the incident) and in his words "they will take a baby soon. But until they do nothing will be done about them".

    Now several years later I have a toddler who loves running round the garden with me. Would I feel so confident if there were two big foxes in the garden with us the whole time? No, and I don't think many people would!

    I think it's quite awful to suggest that the parents of this child are to blame. I think people in bromley who feed them may well be the culprits but I do also think that the dynamics of the human-fox relationship are so different in Bromley now that they will have to start controlling numbers eventually. This won't be the last child attacked there.

    I think if I hadn't lived there I would also be saying "don't be sillyy, foxes are quite shy, you just shouldn't feed them" etc but it is honestly different now.

  16. Has anyone wondered why wildlife are coming into "our" areas. Is it because there is more wildlife therefore the wildlife have to move away from their areas. Or could it be that we have destroyed wildlife areas and the wildlife have no choice but to join us. How would people react if foxes, badger and deer etc. drove bulldozers through our homes I wonder. Driving lessons for animals? If wildlife ruled the country what kind of treatment could we expect from them? Treat those as you would wish to be treated! It is good for us to be able to look for and study wildlife, it gives us a good feeling. But with that feeling should come respect for what we are looking at. I now see wood pigeons, magpies, crows and many other birds in my garden which 50 years ago I would have had to go into the fields and woods to see. This is a sorry situation created by mans ignorance of wildlife needs. Mainly because the woods and field are no more in my area. We used to see partridges in our garden because we were on the edge of our village. I am still in the same house but am now in the centre of a large village with a population of about 17,000. Progress?

    1. Liz, I used to live in South Orpington before moving to Northants, I remember there was a time seeing an urban fox was a rare sight and yes the numbers have increased in numbers and size. Why the size increase, more food less hunting required for that food, Diapensia hits an important point, as we destroy natural enviroment, those that can will adapt to a more unnatural setting. Liz I used deliver bread in a previous job around Greater London and would be often doing these deliveries around 4am-7am and the streets were often awash with discarded food waste (burgers/kebabs/pizza/chicken etc) shops would place rotten vegetables and other food waste in plastic bags and leave it out in unsecured in the open, once you would see rats scoffing on the discarded food but now it's foxes, we as humans have created the problem but instead of dealing with the over indulgence and wastefulness and the general littering we ignore it and brush the problem to the back of our minds hoping someone else will deal with the problem, until the problem gets to close to home and when the scavengers come calling we reach for the phone and call the pest controllers "please come and kill this "pest" ", sorry but we as humans have created the problem and who gets the blame, the wildlife, meanwhile tonight as the pubs and clubs of Bromley empty onto the street and straight into the nearest kebab shop the problem just keeps on repeating itself over and over again. Seriously Liz go out in your car tommorow early am before the street cleaners hit the roads and look at the rubbish and food waste strewn all over the streets and ask yourself who's to blame and why wouldn't animals under pressure from habitat loss and the lack of food wouldn't take advantage the fight for survival is the only thing they know, they don't understand the rules of human society. Are foxes as bad and evil as some make out, so I make no apologise when I say people get what they deserve, I did mean in it a very general way. As for brazen foxes I once had a Stoat take a nibble out of my Doc.Martins once almost had my toes off....

  17. I am well aware of the rumours and speculation in this specific case Douglas, and I stand by what I said earlier.
    No-one "deserves" to have their kid suffer in this way.
    I'm sure you didn't actually mean "got what they deserves" in your original comment.
    If leave our bathroom window open overnight I am MORE LIKELY (perhaps) to attract unwanted attention from burglars for example, but I do not "deserve" to be burgled.

  18. Other than foxes, what other species could do with a re-brand?
    Well... I've always thought toads could do with better PR probably.

    As could all bats. Widely held as the blood-sucking sssshildren of zee night, we really should all think of them as the most amazing flying mammals.
    Then there's moths of course. Some people regard most moffs as dull. But what with the yellow shell, the scarlet tiger, the beautiful golden y, the burnished brass, the light emerald, the peach blossom, the ruby tiger, the silver y, the red and green carpet, the orange swift, the fiery clearwing, the brimstone, the frosted green, the light orange underwing, the maidens blush, the blood vein, the purple-bordered gold, the flame carpet, the peacock, the purple treble bar, the frosted yellow, the canary shouldered thorn, the scarce umber, the purple thorn, the mottled beauty, the white prominent, the buff tip, the marbled brown, the white satin, the Rosy footman, the crimson speckled, the large yellow underwing, the green arches, the splendid brocade, the silvery arches, the copper underwing, the burren green, the spotted sulphur, the green silver lines, the cream bordered green pea, the golden twin spot, the Rosy underwing, not to mention the (shocking pink) elephant hawk moth.... we should all think of our moffs as anything BUT dull! (annnd breathe!)
    I (ahem) won't mention the "lead-coloured drab moth". Aw shucks. Just did.

  19. From 1950 to 1965 I lived on an estate between Springpark Woods and Wickham Common, about halfway between Bromley and Croydon on the edge of the green belt. Foxes were common in the gardens, which were long and narrow, and backed on to gardens in the next road. Foxes were often seen in daylight, and always at the bottom of the garden, never round the houses. No idea what happened at night - no security lights then, and proper dustbins with no plastic binbags - or at the Danish Bacon packing plant around the corner. Our cat died of old age.
    There was very little food waste - you wouldn't, see, what with meat still rationed in the early years. So not entirely a modern phenomenon, but it sounds as if fox numbers in that area have increased. Maybe food waste and its slack and insecure storage needs sorting.

  20. May be we should re brand the Hen Harrier. But first we will have to prosecute the Red Grouse moor owners for damage to the SSSIs. A case in point is Langholm which has had its water sides destroyed by spraying bracken and the removal of trees is next just to try and increase the Red Grouse. The word Bio diversity has gone out of the window!!

  21. Interesting comments, all. It seems to me that the most pertinent factors are that firstly, humans have invaded fox territories; secondly, we are so careless of our food waste, insofar as that we waste so much food and then fail to manage it in a responsible way, This gives rise, it seems to me, to an artificially high urban fox population, thanks to their excellent scavenging skills and breeding capacity. Thirdly, the fox is a resourceful and adaptable creature which is losing some of its' natural caution - living in urban areas, surrounded by human smells, activity, catering etc; It is small wonder that they have learned to enter houses. As for babies being bitten - the sins of the parents are truly, it seems, visited upon the children. Once again we blame anything but the true culprit, when facing the consequences of our own behaviour.

  22. John Miles - indeed. 'though of course I think, originally it was us (Brits) who branded Circus cyaneus the "hen harrier" for its supposed fondness for young game birds or poultry. I may be wrong on that, but thats what I remember being taught.
    North Americans call our "hen harrier" the "northern harrier" and even the French call it "St.Martin's buzzard" (after the fact that overwintering birds tend to arrive in lowland France after November 11th (St.Martin's day).
    So maybe we could follow the American or French lead on any rebrand of that bird?
    Wow. Follow the Americans? We don't do that do we?!

    John Thatcher -
    I don't know why many people simply have to find a "culprit" or apportion "blame" in any situation, where many times blaming someone specific (be it the fox or the parents) isn't helpful at all.

    But lets get one thing clear here.
    All this talk of us "invading fox territories" (or destroying their habitat) is a wee bit strange to me.

    Yes, I guess we have built houses in fox territories - that would be inevitable.

    But habitat loss or our "invasion of (their) territory" invariably goes hand in hand with a decrease in (the animal) population size.
    This might be true for many many species all over the world.... some bears, pandas, tigers, lemurs and leopards for example.... but British red foxes?
    Come off it.
    There is more than enough habitat for foxes out there in the countryside, always has been (and still is) - and there is no evidence that foxes have suffered any serious decline in numbers over the 20th century - in fact available evidence suggests the UK red fox population, whilst fluctuating somewhat, has generally increased in size AND range during the 20th century.

    No.... habitat loss or invasion of their territories has very little to do with foxes moving towards suburbia (or even "urbia")
    The simple fact is that we have CREATED (the near perfect) HABITATS for red foxes in our back gardens and round the back of our shops etc.
    Whether it be (like us) keeping free range hens or (like others!) being careless with food waste or even giving them garden sheds, under which they can bring up their cubs.
    Then, on top of that - some people feed them!

    Foxes have simply, quite naturally and very understandably started to "move in with us" since the 1930s (if not before) - and if I was a fox, I'd have probably done the same 'n' all.

    As for your supposed "artificially high urban fox population" - well.... it does seem like the urban or suburban fox population is pretty-well self-regulating (in terms of numbers) these days, so I'm not sure what you mean by "artificially high"?

    All this fox stuff really has very little to do with "invading their territories", habitat loss, blame, sins, culprits, artificially high populations or indeed any unnatural behaviour.

    Monsieur Reynard is simply getting cosy with us because it suits him nicely.


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