The rise in fox numbers in urban centres has sparked a new craze amongst youth groups across the country, urban fox hunting. Urban fox hunting has taken off in such epidemic proportions local authorities are concerned that it is only a mater of time before serious clashes between youth groups occur. It is becoming more likely that conflicts will arise as established territories come into dispute.
In certain London boroughs it has been reported that established boundaries that separate urban neighbourhoods are becoming increasingly blurred as mixed gender youth groups on BMX bicycles stray into each others territories in pursuit of foxes.
They have been seen chasing foxes across estates, local parks and even the gardens of neighbouring houses. Armed with an array of weapons they seek out and destroy foxes which are perceived as no more than vermin, carrying no greater status than rats. A local resident in the borough of Lambeth, Edith Hankey 89 said: it’s bleeding terrifying, these kids speed through your gardens at all hours making all kinds of racket, recently, what with the world cup they’ve started blowing on them vuvuzela things, I want to know what their parents are doing about it?’
'Killing foxes isn't just about having fun it’s about pest control, foxes are big visible and easy to catch', a young man explains. He goes on: 'we decided to get rid of these vermin after they attacked my neighbours baby who was sleeping in her room, the fox just came in and started chewing on her toes'. A friend of his goes on: 'we’ve been asking the local authorities to do something about them for years but they don't, they don't care so what we supposed to do? We told them if they don’t do nothing we would’.
Pest controllers have reported that complaints of foxes in urban centres have quadrupled in the past three years signifying a real growth in populations. This, they report is an indication that foxes are more confident in their environments and no longer fear living beside domestic households. In fact it also suggests that human behaviour allows for their existence and population growth: the disposal of human household rubbish by lining it up on the streets is tantamount to setting up supermarkets for fox populations. They are easy and nutritious outlets for them where scavenging can provide a balanced diet that allows for population growth. The current estimate of fox numbers in the UK at the end of 2009 was 258,000 of which an estimated number of 33,000 live in urban area's. They are expected to produce some 425,000 cubs in the spring of 2010 between them.
Recently in the light of attacks in Hackney on two young girls the Government has been talking of potential measures to combat population growth whilst pest control organisations are calling for a cohesive strategy for London. A Lords committee has been formed and charged with finding humane ways of dealing with this growth in numbers: The Control for Urban Fox Growth, (CFUFG). The chair Lord Henley a former conservative MP who voted against the ban on fox hunting is overseeing the committee.
Animal rights groups have also joined the debate citing that it is unlikely that foxes will spread disease to humans or pets. They also suggest that foxes alone are not culpable for all that they are blamed for: cats, dogs and rats are as likely to rip domestic waste bags in a search of food. Whilst it would be churlish to suggest foxes do not feed this way it isn't their only source of food, they are also hunters and feed on other rodents, insects and worms and of course toes, a spokesman for the RSPCA said recently.
There are also concerns that similar measures that sought to control the population growth of Grey Squirrels in the 1960's, which saw a million pounds spent with no discernable outcome, is a lesson needed to be remembered. A recent proposal to 'put foxes on the pill' has widely been questioned. The Lords committee suggested yesterday that local pest controllers could employ contraceptive pills hidden in food for foxes as a reasonable strategy for controlling escalating numbers. A similar strategy failed to do anything in controlling grey squirrel growth as they just refused to eat the food. It is suspected that foxes could adopt the same no eat policy.
In the mean time local residents have had enough of what they see as pontificating and rhetoric: 'its typical of local government authorities', one Lambeth mother who requested anonymity was reported to saying recently: 'whilst our children are attacked in their own beds the authorities talk about the rights of the fox and humane ways of controlling them. We don't want them controlled we want them gone: these kids are out there every night dealing with the problem and what are they doing, nothing. I support fox mashers, mashing up foxes is the only way to protect our kids from these vermin'.
Local teen groups have adopted similar uniforms and traditions of fox hunting before it was banned in 2004. However they have added their own cultural touches and urbanised what was once a landed gentry past time.
Dressed in red hoodies and black track suit bottoms they gather at the centre of their estates on BMX bicycles. The hunt leader, who adorns a black beanie over his hoodie, addresses the hunt prior to the chase and instead of sipping sherry they down cans of extra strength cider and smoke up a spliff or two. The hunt leader designates their routes and the field of the hunt and advises all members that, should rival gangs stray into their territories the fox chase ends and protective measures of their turf takes precedence: ‘we've not had to act yet but we will if we have to, these foxes are on our patch and therefore ours to deal with, no one else’s problem is it’.
A form of ‘Blooding’ has also been adopted and become a popular practice for initiating new members into the gang: 'once the fox is proper f++++d up, we normally get it with a bat or something first, don't matter really as long as we slow it down then we can give a right good seeing to. The hunt leader then gets a knife cut its tail off and wipes the blood on the hood of the new recruit, a proper initiation as it where’.
The hunt leader of one of the Lambeth hunts that call them selves, ‘Foxy Huntgo’ added: ‘perhaps they'll learn there not wanted around here and fuck off back to the countryside where their safe!!’
The countryside alliance where unavailable for comment when asked.