Sunday, May 15, 2016

Foxes Unearthed - Lucy Jones

'A story of love and loathing in modern Britain'. Reading this is as close as I'm going o get to any sort of tribute to Leicester City's (also known as the Foxes) premiership win, it probably won't surprise anyone that the link is tenuous. Foxes (the 4 legged kind) interest me far more than football or footballers do.

'Foxes Unearthed' also made a really good companion read to 'Otters in Shetland'. Otter hunting in Shetland was all about the income from the fur, but on mainland Britain it was a level sport right up until the 70's by which time the population had collapsed with otters totally driven out of many counties. It's inly in the last couple of years that they've recolonised every county in the country (I think I have that right). Urban otters are also apparently on the rise - I know they're in Leicester and I'm hopeful that one day I might see evidence of them. Currently the river Soar that runs through the city is both reasonably clean (I have seen kingfishers which is good sign, it also has plenty of fish in it) and the riverside itself not over developed - they could be just round the corner.

Foxes colonised the city a long time ago, and are a not unusual sight. When I first moved into my flat it was waste ground and a semi derelict factory outside my window. There were foxes every night, and at this time of year I could watch cubs playing just below. It's now offices and a car park so they only pass through - I miss them. Where I live (no garden, bins inside, nobody feeding them) foxes are a delight to see, they seem fairly indifferent to human observers but there's still an undercurrent of wariness. They're part of a parallel cityscape that mostly exists just out of view.

Lucy Jones covers all of this, examining the fox in folklore and through literature, looking at the facts behind its reputation as an indiscriminate killer, and our contradictory relationship with it - it seems we love to see them rather more than we love having them crap in our gardens, and that when the latter happens the first call is often to the exterminator. There is also a balanced look at hunting and the culture around it, although there's no doubt that Lucy is pro fox and non to keen on hunting. The only weak part of the book for me is her examination of hunt saboteurs.

It's an extremely sympathetic portrayal, which is fair enough when that's where your sympathies are. But whilst she, probably correctly, is prepared to believe that hunts are sometimes breaking the law and deliberately chasing foxes, there is relatively little examination of the harder to justify aspects of sabbing. In the end that's a small quibble though. Hunting is a contentious issue that to often brings out the worst in those on both sides of the argument, and if my impression is that both sides are as bad (or as good) as each other in the field, I'm not the one who's done the research.

The final chapter is the one to really consider. It's the urban fox again, and how their reputation is once more under threat. The idea of the fox as dangerous predator, a beast that will steal into your home and attack your child, is on the rise. We feed them, or dispose of food in such a careless way that it amounts to the same thing, have made the countryside increasingly inhospitable to wildlife, and then object to it becoming to comfortable in our own backyards. Why do we behave like this?

The final thing to say is that along with being a well balanced, and well researched book, it's also a pleasure to read. I sometimes struggle to get through even the most well written non fiction (unless I can read it in a single sitting) but this one's a page turner as well as being a timely examination of one of our more iconic animals

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