For many countrymen and women, the ban on hunting has only confirmed what we already knew — that the fox as a species was a lot better off living in countryside that was regularly hunted by a recognised pack of foxhounds. That’s not to suggest that foxes enjoy being pursued — though they often behave in a remarkably sangfroid manner when only a few minutes ahead of hounds — but that populations were healthier and more buoyant in traditional hunting countries where farmers, landowners and gamekeepers allowed the hunt to fulfil its role in managing the fox population. Many recognised the important differences between indiscriminate control and management, where the ambition was to maintain a healthy population at an acceptable level.
Farmers and landowners who supported hunting achieved this by safeguarding foxes during the breeding season, monitoring other methods of control throughout the year and by providing habitat that enabled foxes to be found easily on hunting days. Hunts still own thorn woodlands that were planted for their sport more than a century ago, though there are plenty that have also been created within the past 25 years.
The best fox-holding coverts consist of either hawthorn or blackthorn, which can be managed to provide the warm, dense cover so beloved by foxes, and also benefits a wide range of other wildlife, from plants to butterflies and bees. An artificial earth was often included, much to the excitement of our opponents who regularly held up these sanctuaries as proof of inflating the natural vulpine population when they were nothing of the sort. Artificials facilitated the management of the local fox population by making foxes easier to locate on hunting days. It’s no different to anglers baiting a swim — they attract the fish they want to catch; they don’t make more of them.
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