Wight Conservation - Red Fox

The Red FoxThe Red Fox is included in the mammal section despite it not being either an endangered or protected species.  It is appropriate because it was to secure the future for the Isle of Wight Foxhounds that Wight Conservation came into being and purchased Rowlands Wood, Brighstone, Mottistone Down and Common, and Idlecombe & Rowborough.  If any of these areas had become closed to the Hunt, its continued viability would have been in doubt.  From that simple, single-minded beginning grew our enthusiasm for conservation and the emergence of Wight Conservation. 

It is a fact that managing woodlands, fields and hedgerows for good foxhunting involves the very best conservation practices for a whole diversity of flora and fauna.  Thinning and coppicing in woodlands – great for flora, birds, red squirrel and dormouse – provide an excellent shrub layer habitat for the fox.  New rides, ride widening and maintenance, increase the woodland edges, let in more light and consequently encourage wild flowers, birds, butterflies and other invertebrates.  Hedge planting and their management likewise benefits a range of small mammals, birds, butterflies and other insects.  Reversion from arable to grass, giving better going for horses, encourages the habitats for wild flowers and fauna.  For more Burns Enquiry

The fox has no natural predator.  It has to be controlled by man if its population numbers are to be kept within its territory’s carrying capacity.  Since the hunting ban, the fox is no longer culled or dispersed by hounds.  It, however, continues to be controlled and in many shooting and lambing areas it is so unpopular that there will be widespread attempts to eradicate it.  In hunting’s absence, the fox is no longer an amenity asset for the farmer.

At Wight Conservation, too many foxes seriously threaten our ground nesting birds (such as the skylark and nightjar), small leverets and red squirrels.  It can also be a pest to farmers.  Two years ago, it was beyond all doubt that a fox took one of our Highland calves as it was being born.  First of all, as the calf emerged from the womb, it ate the front feet and then the tongue.

Although effective, snaring is horribly cruel, involving a long, lingering and painful death.  Furthermore, we simply do not have the manpower to carry out the daily checks as required by law.  On both humane and time grounds, therefore, snaring is simply not an option.

Shooting with shotguns has a high wounding rate.  The size of the lead in the cartridge, the range, and the way the fox presents itself to the gun have all to be right.  Single shot outright kills are not the norm.  In a recent fox cull with very experienced marksmen, 22 shots were fired and only four foxes were killed.  A most unsatisfactory culling method. 

The sole remaining legal method is shooting with rifles at night and bright lamps.  Using expert marksmen, it is perhaps the most humane method of fox control but not with novice or inefficient shots.  A rifle bullet has a lethal range of 2-3 miles.  It can lethally ricochet.  It is advised not to use rifles where there could be people, near domestic animals, in the vicinity of built-up areas, or towards farm boundaries.  The scope for efficient lamping on properties like our own, widely used by the public and with our fold of Highland cattle, is strictly limited if it is to be humane and safe.

As the fox population grows and, with it, its predation on wildlife following the hunting ban, this year we will have to cull foxes to protect our wildlife.  We have yet to decide which method we will use, but there can be no doubt about it – it will unavoidably be less humane for the fox than hunting with hounds.

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