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Wildlife In London

April 1, 2002

Wildlife In London

March was a month where the fox featured very high in the political world again. If I ever saw a fox on my way to work early in the morning in the middle of Westminster I would be shocked but also 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 I could do without the mass 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 knowledge that birds were not heard over Flanders fields for a long time after the First World War ended and people report that birds still never visit Auschwitz.

Animals in the city are different. London is made the more wonderful by keeping its green spaces 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 City.

Foxes feature high on some people’s concerns in Outer London with residents complaining of neighbours feeding them where they are 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 dog owners on their morning walks to clear up after their pets?

But this effort by pet owners speaks volumes for the love of pets by the English people. And in the loving of pets we come to love animals and often all life. In the countryside this love has to be offset by a recognition of farming reality and natural killing tendencies of animals.

During the recent parliamentary debates on fox hunting I visited friends in Wiltshire and had lunch at the home of cattle and sheep farmers. When my wife and I 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 would expect we are now examining the possibilities of owning a dog in London!).

In this animal loving household with the children’s caring for animals a huge part of their lives the word fox was greeted 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 us 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 it is a shame. Our love of animals and especially the care of all creatures is one of the strengths that adds to the British qualities of decency. But with that love comes responsibility. Without the value of 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 into the centre of London to wage war on the pigeons I think that could satisfy everybody but then again pigeons I have no doubt have their many champions.