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A man's home is his castle, but try telling foxes

By Chris Peterson (China Daily Europe) Updated: 2016-06-05 10:10

Cute but unwanted guests in my garden highlight a relatively recent phenomenon in London

I'm under siege. Not from the descendants of Vikings (my ancestors, but that's another story), or the Normans, or any other race that has over the centuries threatened this sceptred isle, as William Shakespeare once called it.

No, the latest barbarians at the gate are as cute as cute can be.

But I discovered the other side of cute when I ventured down this week to the shed at the bottom of the garden, carefully built and designed three years ago, with a 7-centimeter gap built into the foundations to allow the air to circulate.

There, I found that a family of fox cubs and their mother had tunneled under the shed, burrowed under the fences on both sides of my garden, and generally treated the place as their own playground-cum-building site.

These were the same cubs Evie, my 7-year-old granddaughter, had cooed at from the dining room window as they gamboled on the lawn in the early sunshine.

Three years ago, we thought we'd seen the last of the foxes at the bottom of the garden, those that had built a veritable warren of tunnels and who treated the garden as their own. We assumed naively that they'd been lured by the prospect a few hundred meters away of a free lunch by my neighbor, Robin, who has started keeping chickens.

But no, he reported his chickens well protected and intact, and lo and behold, the foxes were back for a renewed assault on my property.

Urban foxes are relatively recent phenomena in London. In 1970, I remember being transfixed by the sight of a red fox (then a strictly nocturnal animal) running alongside my early-morning commuter train as it returned late from a night of doing whatever foxes do.

Now attracted by a combination of dustbins full of discarded junk food, and thus not having to kill anything, foxes have become urban, daytime creatures. They are arrogantly unafraid of humans and are often seen strolling from garden to garden along pavements.

And, thanks to former prime minister Tony Blair's ill-thought-out fox hunting bill, introduced in the 1990s, you can't hunt them either. Not that my dear, late golden retriever Hopscotch would have been much use as a guard dog. He only wanted to play with foxes in the park.

So I'm stuck with my new neighbors until I can figure out a way of persuading them to move on.

I suspect urban foxes are not a problem many Beijing residents have, given that most people live in apartments.

Not that China - one of the countries described as having the most diverse wildlife - doesn't have foxes. It is home to the red fox, which can be found throughout most of China, except in the northwest. They seem to behave a lot like their European cousins, except for one thing: they have avoided becoming urbanized.

But a little online research throws up a problem unique to China. Here, foxes are farmed for their fur, but farmers have reported followers of Buddhism buying up large numbers of the animals, which they then release into the wild, a practice known as fangsheng.

According to a Beijing Times report, a woman living on the outskirts of the capital was less than impressed - she found two recently released foxes attacking her 50 chickens, killing three. So I'm not alone with the fox issue, it seems.

It could be worse. A good friend in New York told me his house was constantly under attack from raccoons eager to burrow under the eaves. And an old mate from Australia rants about the behavior of wild parakeets, given to munching the tar-covered roofing felt on his outhouse.

The author is managing editor of China Daily European Weekly, based in London. Contact the writer at chris@mail.chinadailyuk.com

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