April 1, 2002
The fate of the fox has featured high recently in political debate. If I ever saw a fox on my way to work early in the morning or even on my journey home late at night here in the middle of Westminster I would be both shocked and in a way pleased.
City life is improved by the inclusion of animals and birds. It would be intolerable if the day was not greeted by birdsong (even if we could all do without the flocks of pigeons which continue to besmirch London’s buildings).
The sound of birds is a great reminder that life is good and I have never forgotten the observation that birds were not heard over Flanders fields for a long time after the First World War ended whilst people report that to this day birds fail to visit Auschwitz.
Animals in the city are different. London is made the more wonderful by keeping its green spaces and encouraging natural life. In my political role in Westminster I am involved with Greater London as a whole and therefore see many surveys carried out in different parts of the metropolis.
Foxes feature high on some people’s concerns in Outer London with residents complaining of well-meaning neighbours feeding them when they are considered vermin. Another major concern (always higher than graffiti in leafy suburbs) is pavement fouling by dogs. Who would have believed twenty years ago that plastic bags would be regularly carried by the more responsible dog owners on their morning walks to clear up after their pets?
But this effort by their owners speaks volumes for the love of pets by the English people. And in the nurturing of pets we come to adore all animals. In the countryside this love has to be offset by a recognition of the somewhat harsh realities of farming and the natural predatory instincts of animals.
During the early Spring I visited friends in Wiltshire and had lunch at the home of cattle and sheep farmers. When we arrived their cocker spaniel puppy made a beeline for my wife Michele and spent the entire time playing with her and nestling on her lap (as you might imagine we are now examining the possibilities of owning a dog in London!).
In that animal friendly household the children’s care and affection for animals represents a huge part of their lives yet to utter the word “fox” was to be met with complete disdain. For them seeing a fox in spring is equivalent to us in Westminster seeing a man with a gun on the streets. The fear that is engendered for ewes and lambs cannot be understood by those of us in the city who would be uplifted by the sight of a good looking fox with a fine brush wandering around the streets of London.
There are diverse views here. Fox hunting has become a political football and brings out some of the worst instincts in politics and politicians. I have every respect for animal lovers but rather less for those who use this issue to promote their own brand of class war. The English love of animals and the health of all creatures, large and small, is one of the strengths that adds to the national reputation for decency. But with that love comes responsibility. Without the tradition of fox hunting one can sense that farmers will set out to eradicate the animal from the countryside by poisoning and gassing it and thus driving it into the suburbs where different concerns will be raised.
If only foxes could be brought here into the centre of London to wage war on the pigeons I believe that could satisfy everybody, but then again, the pigeon population would no doubt quickly build up its own fan club!