As a farmer’s daughter, I’ve always felt ambivalent about foxes. I grew up in a family that regarded hunting as a countryside tradition that was necessary to reduce the number of creatures that were regarded as little more than vermin. I’ve seen newborn lambs that have been killed by a fox and it’s a very upsetting sight.
My first experience of cubbing was on a pony that we were planning to sell on. The pony’s price could be increased at market if it had had some hunting experience. Cubbing began in September before the hunting season proper kicked off. It was exceptionally boring for an eleven-year-old to hang around a wood or copse waiting for the fox cubs to be disposed of. I didn’t know how they were dispatched as I wasn’t near enough to see. Nor would I have wanted to. I just remember getting cold and hungry and not really understanding what other people saw in this activity.
Not long after that I decided foxhunting wasn’t for me. Not especially through moral reasons but being an asthmatic child I didn’t have the stamina to hunt on horseback all day. Horses invariably get stronger and stronger as the day of hunting progresses. They are on an adrenalin high when the hounds are in full cry and I didn’t rate my chances of staying in control.
Contrarily perhaps, when I go back ‘home’ to Herefordshire, the sight of the hunt at a country pub gives me an irrepressible, visceral thrill. It’s impossible not to feel the goose pimples rise and the heart quicken when they move off to start the hunt. Horses kept stabled at home usually go spare when they hear the hunt anywhere nearby. Even horses or ponies that have never ridden to hounds will have this inbuilt response. I have never attended a drag-hunt meet so it would be interesting to see if the same vicarious thrill is in the air. Apparently many hunt memberships have increased since the ban was imposed in 2004, so a lot of people, while enjoying a day out with the hounds, don’t enjoy the idea of killing a fox. On the other hand many old-school hunting people regard it as merely a ritual now, a pale imitation of what hunting should be.
Now I’m a town dweller I hunger for any contact with the natural world. On a recent trip to my country bolthole in the UK I was lucky enough to encounter a family of foxes that came out daily to entertain us. You would have to be a cold-hearted person indeed not to be moved by the fox cubs’ playful antics. Even the sheep and lambs that they shared the field with seemed totally unperturbed by their presence. The vixen sat and stared right at us while her cubs played. Obviously smart enough to realised that we were far enough away not to pose a threat. Through the spotting scope I got a perfect view of her beautiful, vulpine face. I know foxes are still a pest to farmers with poultry and livestock but it would be interesting to see the figures as to how much this has worsened since hunting was banned. While I’m aware that as a meat eater I have no right at all to any moral high ground, the vixen and fox cubs won me over completely and I’m glad I made the decision not to foxhunt all those years ago.