Now I pass sleeping houses and am under the conker trees. To my right rising up to the three towering, raven-nested Scots pine is a short-turfed ‘bank’. Dotted with ewes and lambs, and edged by rabbit infested gorse.
I stop, stock still, as the slinking red shape of a fox angles down the ‘bank’. To my delight, as I am in the shadows of the trees he does not notice me. He is moving carefully, and I realise his target is the grey twitching ears of rabbits feeding out from the gorse edge.
Now here’s the thing that strikes me, the ewes ignore the fox completely. If the fox was a danger to their lambs they would react, but they obviously see no threat. If a domestic dog was in the field I am sure their reaction would be very different. I do believe that the denigration of the fox for killing lambs is misplaced. I don’t say it doesn’t happen, but even when it does I suspect it is a sick, dead or damaged animal. Of course the fox is a scavenger and if it comes upon a stillborn lamb or dead sheep it is not going to pass by the bounty. But as a countryman I have often pushed apart fox droppings and by far the commonest contents are the fur and small bones of voles, mice or rabbit and frequently large amounts of beetle casings. In controlling rabbits and rats around feeding stations the fox is a help to the farmer and I believe in general does not deserve its reputation as an enemy. Domestic dogs who get a taste for the sport of ‘sheep chasing’ are a far, far bigger danger. They leave the savaged dead where they die!