Out-fox the fox

There’s a family of foxes in our neighbourhood. I suspect they live next-door, where the garden is more of a junk-yard (or as he’s an artist, he’d probably say ‘store of useful objects’). Foxes have been regular visitors to our garden but their activity has really stepped up this year, possibly because there are cubs. I posted a photo of one of the cubs on Facebook and provoked a range of comments, for and against foxes.


I like seeing the foxes in the garden. I see little enough wildlife in my urban existence, so it’s a treat when there’s a fox sniffing around or some cubs playing.

However… It’s not a treat to have to keep picking up the dog-food wrappers they leave behind, presumably brought through from a neighbour’s badly-secured bin. It’s also not a treat to have to keep filling in the holes they dig around the roots of shrubs. Worse still is the way they dig up my pots. I had planted clover and phacelia in this old sink, with a few dwarf sunflowers, giving it a fallow year – a break from tomatoes. The foxes keep digging it up, scattering the plants and the compost. I (and the plants) can’t keep up with them, so it’s just a mess.

Belfast sink

I keep the back end of the garden wild for wildlife. The grass grows long. The weeds go unweeded. The leaves are left. There’s hawthorn and hazel, rowan and laurel. There are a couple of log piles. The foxes would be welcome to dig there, but not in my pots on the patio. One of the Facebook comments said, How is a fox supposed to know not to dig there? Fair enough. But is it wrong to feel that it’s OK for me to exert some control over my garden?

wild side

I think I know where the foxes were getting in: through a damaged fence panel behind the shed. I’ve blocked off the holes (leaving a little hole for hedgehogs – don’t worry) and added some chicken wire above the fence too. It’s too early to tell if it’s worked or not. I suspect nothing will keep them out, but in making access less easy I may restore some balance to the situation.

View behind shed

It’s balance that I’m concerned about. I’m happy for the foxes to come in and do a bit of digging for worms, and I can deal with the occasional food wrapper and the occasional lump of scat. But it was overwhelming. In the same way, I’ve taken measures to keep the squirrels off the bird feeder: I like seeing squirrels in the garden, but they were eating all the bird food and I want to support the birds.

I’m working on a very small scale here in a small garden. I feel that if I didn’t take steps to impose some control over the garden eco-system, it would soon get out of balance. Perhaps on a bigger scale, I could be more laid back and nature would find its own balance. I worry that my decisions about control are just based on my wish to have a nice garden. Even though, for me, a nice garden means a wildlife-friendly garden, I also want it to provide some food for me and my family and a pleasant environment for relaxation. I’m sure I’m making mistakes, because I know I don’t have the full picture of the complexity of the garden eco-system in my mind. But I want to do the right thing for the plants and animals of the garden, including the human animals.

There’s an obvious parallel with the way that human activity has become way out of balance with the rest of nature, overwhelming the global eco-system in so many ways. What we should have been doing, biblically-speaking at least, was caring for the earth in such a way that balance was maintained for the benefit of every creature – using our power for the common good. Perhaps the least I can do is become better informed about the wildlife in the garden and pay better attention to it – attention that is less judgemental, less self-centred and more loving, more humble, and more servant-hearted. The parallel coming back at me feels just as obvious.

3 thoughts on “Out-fox the fox

  1. Hurrah for foxes in your neighborhood! They are being very pesky in your garden, however… A lovely film just came out in the USA called THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM. Two idealistic (and well-bankrolled) human beings set out to transform a very tired, arid, mono-culture, 200-acre farm into an interconnected and thriving entity which will serve/feed/honor both human and non-human beings. Again and again they find themselves wanting to gird up for a battle with an animal species — coyotes, snails, gophers, starlings, etc. — which is killing/damaging/eating something important on their farm (egg-laying chickens, fruit tree roots, perfectly-ripened-and-about-to-be-harvested nectarines, etc.) And yet they learn to do what you sound willing to do — which is to pause, and take a step or two back, and look at the larger patterns and balances unfolding… Ducks, it turns out, love to eat snails — so they periodically unleash a hungry band of ducks in their orchards to decimate the snail population. They come to understand that the coyotes are also eating gophers — thus killing all the local coyotes would send their gopher population sky-rocketing. They buy and install owl-roosting boxes all around their farm, which adds another layer of gopher-eating predators to their farm eco-system, and hawks start roosting in their fruit orchards, which helps to deter the starlings. The way the movie is structured (it follows the genesis of the farm through many years of trial and error and growth and re-balance) almost every triumph is matched with a new challenge — and gradually each their entire farm ecosystem gets more and more complicated… and more and more in balance… and resilient. Particularly vivid is how their farm catches and retains water during their rainy season (compared with how it erodes hillsides and flows to the sea on neighboring, mono-cropped farms). I hope this film becomes accessible in the UK. THANK YOU for writing your blog posts, Alex. I have been particularly un-inspired to write anything on mine for almost a year. Perhaps I, like your fox-ravaged sink garden, have simply been lying fallow for a while… and I need a family of foxes to stir things up a bit!!!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Will. That sounds like a really interesting film. There’s a brilliant re-wilding project happening on the Knepp estate in West Sussex, near me, where Isabella Tree & Charles Burrell are turning intensively-farmed unprofitable land into a wildlife-rich forest. It’s good to know there are people out there doing the right thing!

      1. Hurrah for the return of wildlife-rich forest land!!! I like that one of the human’s overseeing this project is named Isabella TREE.

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