‘Despite being hunted for centuries, the fox survives and is plentiful in Islington. Commemorated in place names and pub signs, Reynard the fox is reminiscent of his cousin the North American Coyote, a trickster figure and prankster, morally suspect and to be watched. On the other hand many of us have a sneaking admiration for Reynard and feel delighted when we meet him. How often do we lie in bed at night enjoying the raucous throaty bark of foxes calling across our gardens? Who can deny the magic in this slightly eerie exchange?’
RICHARD MEYERS . FORGOTTEN FOLKLORE : MYTHS AND MAGIC IN ISLINGTON, Islington Council
As Conservation Ranger at the Ecology Centre, Richard Meyers had seen a few foxes ~ in Gillespie Park, Parkland Walk & on the streets of North London near Alexandra Palace where he lived. Richard told us of a winter’s night when he heard fox barks in the street outside his house… He went to the window & saw several foxes playing in snow. One leapt onto a snow-covered car bonnet. It rested its forepaws on the windscreen & wiped the snow away, using them as windscreen wipers. It peered through the glass for a bit, then jumped down. The fox family then moved off down the road, with the cubs rolling and tumbling in the snow.
Foxes are most often seen & heard after dark in Highbury. Fox barks at night are other-worldly. But Foxes are about during daylight hours as well, trotting along the pavement or resting on the roofs of garden sheds. Two brothers living near the fish & chip shop on Gillespie Road put bread under their parked car every night. They took great pleasure in watching the foxes who came along to eat it.
The Ecology Centre in nearby Gillespie Park had a pinboard where people could pin photos they had taken of wildlife in their gardens, & a map showing where the gardens were in the borough. Many of the local foxes were in these pix.
At feeding time here, we warn the birds to keep a lookout for Pointy-Eared Predators & fly up & away the instant they see one. Foxes tread silently, hiding behind ivy or shrubbery… they are lightning-quick, leaping out suddenly after prey. Cats, our other Pointy Eared Predators, are much-loved pets: but some of them will also attack & kill birds. The cats have their meals in nearby homes, while wild foxes have to fend for themselves.
Foxes are now (2021) revisiting the overgrown lot next door. A fox may march briskly along on the other side of the fence at birdfeeding time, head pointing straight ahead, apparently unaware that anything is happening next door. But it can dive over in an instant & be off in seconds, with or without a victim. Foxes are expert at watching the human’s face, & need only a few seconds when the face looks away to dive in, grab a bird & be off with it. Often the only clue to a successful kill will be a sad scattering of feathers found later, feathers that had been a bird the day before.
Our fox photos in snow are from over a decade ago. The little woodland was still alive behind our new fence, so it must have been the winter of 2002/2003, before the developer…
As foxes came in & out of our garden, we saw that one had mange – missing fur & a terrible itch, caused by tics. We got in touch with The Fox Project, a charity run by volunteers, & were sent a vial of homeopathic medicine with instructions: ‘Put two drops on a jam sandwich & leave it out for the fox at night. Cats won’t touch it – they don’t like sweet things. Every night, another jam sandwich with fox medicine… When the vial is empty, just post it back to us so we can refill it & send it to someone else’. We did, & it worked, & the fox’s coat grew back… foxproject.org.uk/about-us/
The Case of the Vanishing Chocolate Biscuits
It was a warm summer evening in the Garden Flat, & Paul’s window was open. He ate a few chocolate digestive biscuits & twisted the paper packet closed at one end. Sitting the packet down on his keyboard, he went out.
A few hours later, he returned & brewed himself some coffee. He fancied a chocolate biscuit to go with it & looked on the keyboard… but the packet was gone. He went upstairs & carried on looking – was he losing his memory? Had he been working too hard? Could he have been burgled? Who would take only a packet of half-eaten chocolate biscuits, & nothing else? Then he saw that his neatly-made bed had been slightly disarranged, & his wooly hat was gone from its usual place between spread and pillow… He spent a good 45 minutes searching the flat, found nothing, & finally gave up… He drank his coffee & turned in for the night.
Early next morning, Paul awoke. Looking out of his open window, he saw a fox cub frolicking on top of the Ivy hedge. In its jaws was a nappy bag, which it was thrashing from side to side, as a puppy would. Down in the garden Paul saw his wooly hat & three of his trainers. All had been removed through the open window – one object at a time? By the fox cub working alone, or with an accomplice? Another fox cub? A squirrel? By the time Paul got out to collect his belongings, the cub had gone, leaving the nappy bag behind. This was perhaps a trade-off for the chocolate digestive biscuits; no trace of them was ever found.
Postscript: Paul closes and locks his window now, when he’s going out – just in case.
This year the fox family living a few gardens from ours had to deal with mange. We again followed the Fox Project’s homeopathic remedy routine, but deployed the jam sarnies for breakfast rather than overnight. It was good to see the foxes eat their medicine & gradually recover from mange. The terrible itching stopped & the dusty fur grew back a bright orange again.
Foxes have now gone from our little area. We do not know whether the architects who bought the empty lot have had anything to do with it, but know that elsewhere in Islington foxes are accepted & welcome. We hope the little fox family who were here this last season have a life somewhere in the borough, a future.
Islington’s Angel Central featured a display with a welcoming Fox in its pedestrian entrance from Upper Street, across from Monsoon.