This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
In the hunting shires of England and Wales there are about 170 foxhound packs containing 6,400 couples of hounds; in Scotland, 11 packs, with 358 couples; and in Ireland, 24 packs, with 1,042 couples, testifying to the great favouritism of Reynard for affording sport, his cunning and trickery being so notorious that, notwithstanding his many faults, he has always been tolerated and even treated with favour by the northern races, being sacred to the mighty Thor, whose red, flaming beard was of the same typical colour. Nevertheless, in the mountain districts of the British Islands, where no hound or horseman ever comes, cultivators will not tolerate his too-frequent depredations in the sheep-fold and poultry-yard, among winged and ground game, being oblivious to his decimation of rats, mice, moles, and voles. Unfortunately, the fox, knowing as he is, has not the capacity to discriminate between wild and domesticated animals, therefore helps himself to the readiest and best food "come-at-able," unfortunately killing more than suffices for present needs.
To the game preserver not interested in fox-hunting the fox is an unmitigated culprit of the worst type, and by the farmer deriving no benefit from the sport of fox-hunting no quarter is given to reynard, but every possible obstacle, such as barbed wire and spiked hurdles used for fencing and mending gaps in hedges, placed in the way of the hunter. This is often mere "cussedness " and akin to that of the fox in destroying a score of young or grown-up chickens when one would have served for a meal, inasmuch as the prompting is that of extreme selfishness, and practised regardless of another's pleasure and profit. Nothing is seen but damage done by fox-hunters in galloping across fields and breaking fences, and depredations of foxes among poultry, total eclipse of trim, neatly-cut hedges of half a century ago obscuring fences now full of gaps and repaired in the most casual way with dead thorns, or a few yards of barbed wire, while oblivious to there being no sort of poultry-house on the farmstead, the hens nesting anywhere, all over the place, and at night roosting in cart hovels, implement sheds, and other buildings.
On the other hand, the sportsman - the fox-hunter as distinguished from the game-preserver - makes matters clearly understood by gamekeeper and farmer in respect of both game and poultry, namely, that while game is preserved and poultry-farming practised, foxes must also be protected on his domain. This is consonant with experience as regards mutual advantages, 1. If no foxes, no hunting, and no need for horses bred for that purpose; no necessity for selected oats, hay, and straw, no hard cash distributed in a hunting country in wages, in up-keep of stables, kennels, and mounts in respect of saddlers, tailors, medical and veterinary surgeons, hunt breakfasts, luncheons, suppers, balls, etc., even " meets " implying lavish expenditure. 2. If no foxes, game unduly preserved and without restriction, in many cases beyond reason, so as to hamper and hinder the farmer in his vocation, and raising up a spirit of animosity and contention so expressed as to desire total abolition of the Game Laws. 3. If no foxes, no necessity for protective wire enclosures to breeding-grounds and poultry-farms, no need for owners and occupiers to provide suitable and roomy yards and shelters where the poultry can be locked in at night.
All these point to the enormous amount of money which changes hands through the national sport of fox-hunting, and goes in one way or other to benefit agriculture and the country, even the game-preserver and poultry-farmer, inasmuch as these industries must be pursued on cultural lines and not on out-of-date practices.
But fox-breeding must be excluded from the category of utility to fox-hunters, game-preservers, and farmers when it is carried on so as to preclude partridge shooting and the rearing of poultry profitably, as was the case in Mid-Essex in 1906. At Leigh, midway between Braintree and Chelmsford, an Essex hunt established a breeding-ground for foxes upon eighteen acres of land hired from the governors of Guy's Hospital, and here the foxes increased at an abnormal rate, the object being to provide animals in this enclosure to give sport for different hunting packs in the country. The foxes lived there all through the year undisturbed, and those placing them there not having provided means for their sustenance, the foxes soon proved a scourge in the district. On Mr. J. Bade ley's estate, one of the largest in Essex, and whose land adjoins the haunt of the foxes, partridges became extinct; consequently no shooting for himself and friends in September, a serious matter as regards food to the nation and expenditure in entertaining. Besides, while there was scarcely a head of game to be found within half a dozen miles of the den, the farmer's stocks decreased enormously.
One farmer at Leigh, who holds 300 acres of land, had taken a hundred poultry and ducks in a single morning from his yard, and over the whole of his land partridges, of which a good reserve was left in 1905, had become extinct. The foxes attacked the farmer's stock in the daylight, which had not occurred before; therefore it was necessary to have a man on guard in the farmyard all day in order to drive the foxes away. Daylight depreda tions of foxes in the poultry-yard when vixens have families dependent upon them are not uncommon even in the case of wild foxes, which incursions might be effectually prevented if those having charge would supply the vixen during the time the cubs are with her with a few rabbits and rooks left conveniently near her earth.
Tame foxes must be classed with tame deer for chasing purposes, and as repulsive to humane feeling as rabbit coursing; while the game-preserver and the poultry-farmer are justified in reprisals on tame foxes, or an undue number of these animals in the vicinity of winged game and poultry-rearing fields, the proprietors of these taking the necessary precautions against ordinary incursions.
In the rearing fields a boundary of low netting is of little avail against foxes, nothing less than 6 feet high wire netting sufficing, and this turned out at the top at an obtuse angle, with closely barbed wire stretched about 6 inches above the bent-over netting. This is expensive (2s. 6d. per yard run), therefore recourse in most cases is had to expedients, such as strings of twine affixed to stakes at a height of from 9 to 18 in. from the ground, and these lines dressed at intervals of a few days with gas tar, "verminite" (supplied by Messrs. Wm. Burgess & Co., Malvern Wells), or "reynardine," the three lines being about a yard apart, the outer one 9 in. high, middle 1 ft., and inner 18 in., and this a yard from the usual wire-netting, along the top of which is run a line smeared with the offensive substance. In addition to this protection to the rearing ground, a hurricane lamp at the corners of the ground, and each fifty yards distance along the sides and ends, lighted at dusk and kept alight until dawn, is found effective, in keeping foxes at bay.
To prevent foxes disturbing sitting birds a little of an offensive substance, such as "verminite," scattered on the twigs and round the nest has been found effective, not only against foxes, but also poaching cats and straying dogs.
Fig. 81. - Fox Traps, American Patterns. (Supplied by Mr. H. Lane, Eagle Works, Wednesfield, Staffordshire.)
In places where no hound or horseman ever comes and there is no need for the fox, shooting or trapping is had recourse to. The trap employed is usually a double spring, either with plain jaws (Fig. 81), or with teeth, and with spikes, and with either round or square jaws. The sizes range from 6 in. (by inch increase) to 12 in. jaws. The trap may be set in front of a bait, such as a disembowelled rabbit, with a close passage opening only on to the trap, which in the smaller sizes is not usually baited on the table, while the larger ones generally are, so that the animal is taken by the head, and by teeth and spikes quickly dispatched. Of course, trapping can be effected at the mouths of earths, or the entrances in rocks or cliffs, the trap in all cases being concealed, only the bait being visible. A new trap must not only be hidden but "faked" in some manner to counteract suspicion. The mere fact that bait is used is not of itself sufficient, precaution must be taken to dull the newness of the steel or assimilate its appearance to its surroundings when set by rubbing it with mud, clay, or by artfully concealing its presence with grass, leaves, or with whatever the trapper's experience and knowledge teaches him to be best suited for such a purpose.
In setting a steel trap the careful trapper generally wears gloves, in order to avoid the possibility of any human scent being left on the trap, material with which it is concealed, or on the ground, grass, or twigs in its vicinity.