Urban foxes feeling at home in Hastings
I can’t speak for how it is in other parts of Hastings and St Leonards, but in the Old Town the local population of foxes are nurtured and treasured rather than persecuted - revered even.
They criss-cross the Stade at night with their low, loping gait and white-tipped tails, probably on their way to a hut where a local fisherman feeds them by hand and has names for them.
He shares amazing images on Facebook of a vixen curled up, content and fast asleep on his sofa, like a pet cat, or of the visiting foxes delicately taking food from his hand.
Foxes have always inhabited Hastings living side by side with us, and, on one memorable occasion, long ago now, seriously alarmed and disturbed me.
In my early 20’s, after a night on the beer in the Old Town, I was trekking back, somewhat unsteadily, to the West Hill via the 100 Steps - accessed through a narrow passage in George Street and rising toward the West Hill rocks.
The rocks appeared, bone white, and eerie beneath a winter full moon, when I was suddenly frozen in my tracks by what sounded, for all the world, like the cry of an abandoned baby calling desperately for it’s mother. There followed more uncanny ‘baby’ cries - an echo effect surrounding the sand stone cliff. It chilled me to the bone.
Later I learned that the sound I had heard, possessed of a real human quality, was the mating cry of foxes in season.
Foxes often make a regular appearance on the Old Town Appreciation Group Facebook page - foxes frolicking in gardens in broad daylight, stretched out in the sun on Old Town rooftops.
It’s no surprise really, foxes have been well documented in south east urban areas since the 1930’s. The number of urban foxes living in the UK isn’t officially recorded, however, a 2013 report by DEFRA estimated there were around 430,000 - roughly one fox for each 150 people.
Foxes are incredibly adaptable and resourceful when it comes to feeling at home in urban areas. In 2011, when the Shard skyscraper was being built at London Bridge, a fox took up residence on the 72nd floor, surviving on food scraps left by workers.
It is true that urban red foxes have adapted to a diet of household waste and will raid bins for food, but they also play an important role in keeping the local rodent population under control in urban areas by hunting rats and mice.
Recently there was a heart-warming dispatch by a Hastings man who had formed a solid relationship with a visiting fox. You got the impression that he didn’t have much other human contact and that her visits transformed his day, restored a sense of meaning to his life. Then her visits ceased for a while and he was distraught, worried and struggling to make sense of life. Her eventual return restored his balance, gave life a real sense of purpose again - fox therapy.
Only recently I learned from a neighbour that my ginger cat Beano has become good mates with a young fox. He told me that he often sees them playing together at night and that they seem to enjoy hanging out together.
It is heartwarming to me that these beautiful creatures, which for centuries have been hunted across Sussex fields and torn apart, have become part of the fabric of urban life in Hastings and embraced for their beauty, grace and sense of mystery.