Living with Foxes

Neil Aldridge

2014 - 2017

England, United Kingdom

Maligned and loved, and everything in between, no species epitomises the bizarre relationship the British people have with nature quite like the red fox.

Every year, across the country, farmers persecute foxes in their thousands. Gamekeepers protecting the profits of country estates keep fox numbers down to minimise loss of game birds that could be shot for profit by paying clients. Hunting with hounds continues across the country in defiance of the law as supporters believe the Conservative government will repeal the ban. Even conservation charities charged with protecting Britain’s native wildlife kill foxes to protect the birdlife that the British love so much.

Conversely, now more than ever, foxes seem to have a growing army of people on their side. In recent years, thousands have routinely taken to the streets of the capital to protest against the government’s actions and stand up for the fox. It is widely accepted that Theresa May’s government failed to win a majority in the last election due to their pledge to repeal the fox hunting ban, amongst other animal rights issues. Hunt saboteur groups continue to stand up to illegal hunts and many others dedicate their time or money to protecting and caring for young, sick or injured animals. Some caring individuals even share their everyday lives with foxes that can’t be returned to the wild.

All the while, foxes are continuing to do what they have always done the world over – adapt. In Britain’s towns and cities, foxes are making our backyards their homes. For many people, knowing Britain’s largest remaining carnivore is never far away enriches their lives. For others, these are unwanted neighbours.

Yet perhaps, with Brexit looming and the laws protecting the wildlife living in Britain’s countryside still unclear, the fox could be facing its greatest challenge yet. One thing is for sure, foxes will adapt and one way or another, we will all have to learn to live with foxes.

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  • A red fox stalks through woodland in North Somerset, England while light pollution from the city of Bristol lights up the dark winter sky beyond. The countryside should be a safe haven for foxes. Instead, they are targeted as vermin here by gamekeepers and farmers, and persecuted as part of illegal blood sports.

  • A fox hunt led by the huntmaster and his hounds makes its way across farmland south of London, England. Despite its long history and tradition, hunting foxes with dogs is banned in England. However, organised hunts remain active across the country, adamant that the government will repeal the ban. Controvertially, hunts are often witnessed hunting and killing foxes, yet very few prosecutions are ever achieved. Hunt supporters also often resort to violent and intimidatory tactics to stop activits from sabotaging fox hunts. There seems to be very little public support for a repeal of the hunting ban but with key political figures in favour of repealing the law, a heated debate, if not a change, seems inevitable.

  • Private security on public money - a policeman opens a gate for a member of a fox hunt to pass in countryside north of Brighton, England. British police forces are coming under increasing criticism for the assistance and security they give to fox hunts despite an increase in aggravated assault by hunt supporters on protestors and the continued flaunting of anti-hunting legislation.

  • A hunt saboteur keeps in radio contact with colleagues while monitoring a fox hunt in Somerset, England. Hunt saboteurs have moved away from the confrontational approach towards fox hunts that saw them labelled as dangerous animal rights activists. With modern camera technology they are able to follow and monitor hunts and collect evidence of illegal hunting of foxes to build support for keeping the ban and pursue convictions of offenders.

  • Conservationists and supporters of animal rights march in London to protest against the British Government’s plans to vote on repealing the ban on fox hunting and plans to expand the controversial badger cull. The stance of Theresa May’s Conservative government on animal rights and their support for fox hunting contributed to their losing of a majority in parliament.

  • A fox hangs with its feet bound in the cold storage of a gamekeeper's cabin on a farm near Salisbury in southern England. This male fox was shot by the gamekeeper having been caught breaking into a pheasant rearing pen and killing hundreds of pounds worth of young birds. Gamekeepers routinely control foxes to protect game bird populations reared for sport and profit, although controversially the practice of fox control is also carried out by conservation organisations out of the view of the public to protect wild birds.

  • A farmer in the West Country of England stands at dusk holding two of his hens and the fox that killed them. This is the traditional frontline of fox-human conflict in Britain. Yet, this farmer doesn't like to kill foxes and prefers good animal husbandry practices. This was the last fox he shot before spending tens of thousands of pounds on upgrading his fences to keep both his stock and his local foxes safe.

  • A couple dance on a street corner outside a bar in Bristol, England next to street art depicting a fox. The fox has a long history in British culture and is a symbol for the wider movement against the establishment of banks, the government and the police.

  • An urban fox waits until dark before stepping out from the shadows to search for food in a coutryard in West London. Thanks to the waste created by our excessive lifestyles, foxes have adapted and are thriving in developed areas.

  • A young fox steps out from its den behind a shed in a garden in a suburb of Bristol, England. Urban fox populations often suffer from mange outbreaks and this youngster is showing early signs of the disease in its coat and eyes, making its future uncertain. The health, size and a boldness of Britain's urban fox population draws great debate, but their adaptability has made them successful in their modern environment. Despite the threats from mange, vehicle collisions and pest control, it seems Britain’s urban foxes are our permanent neighbour.

  • A fox lies dead on a road after being hit by a car in the West Country of England. A sign of the impact of our relentless development and modernisation, road deaths are one of the biggest killers of foxes and one of the greatest causes of cub abandonment.

  • An adult female fox peers through the bars of its cage at the Fox Project in Kent, England. This fox had been confined to this cage as a patient at the Fox Project - a wildlife hospital dedicated to caring for and rehabilitating sick and injured foxes - for several months due to her life threatening condition, which included suffering from terrible sarcoptic mange. Having recovered through a course of treatment, she was due for a release back into the wild. Her case is an example of what is achieved at wildlife hospitals like the Fox Project across the UK by people who dedicate their lives, often for no financial reward, to helping foxes.

  • A badly injured male fox - found after being hit by a vehicle - is checked over before being given treatment for his wounds at the Fox Project in Kent, England.

  • A tiny fox cub is dried with a hairdryer after being cleaned at a veterinary practice. This cub was found abandoned on land due for development in London, UK. Hundreds of foxes are found abandoned in towns and cities across the UK every year, often due to mothers being killed on roads but sometimes - like in this case - because den sites are disturbed by developers as more and more houses are built on green space. This cub's struggle for survival typifies the ongoing battle for space between people and nature.

  • A tiny fox cub is hand fed at a vet surgery east of London, England after being found abandoned by its mother.

  • 'Sweetie' the rescued fox is dried off after his bath by his carer Mike in Kent, England. Sweetie’s medical conditions mean he would not survive long in the wild.

  • Foxy - a wild-born red fox - travels with his head out of a car window on his way to being walked in woodland east of London by his veterinarian carer. Foxy was found abandoned and near to death as a young cub but was nursed back to health and now lives a semi-wild life.

  • Foxy the red fox is taken for a walk in woodland east of London by his veterinarian carer. Foxy was found abandoned as a tiny cub but was nursed back to good health and now lives a semi-wild life.

  • A fox prepares to leave a cage and return to the wild in North Somerset, England. This fox was born in the wild before being found abandoned at a young age and taken with its siblings to a wildlife rescue centre where they were cared for before being deemed healthy enough to return to the wild.