Ross Clark and Ben Fogle debate fox clubbing incident

YES says Ross Clark:

 QC Jolyon Maugham (pictured) revealed he used a baseball bat to kill a fox trapped in netting at his home in London

Bloodsports aren’t usually my thing, but there is one I do enjoy: the sight of metropolitan liberals tearing each other apart on Twitter.

A QC held up as a Remainer hero for his tireless work clogging the courts with his attempts to frustrate Brexit discovered sharply on Boxing Day that there is no surer way to upset your fellow liberals than by boasting about clubbing a fox to death with a baseball bat – even if the animal was trying to kill your chickens.

Following a furious outcry, Jolyon Maugham sheepishly referred himself to the RSPCA.

No creature is so subject to misplaced sentimentality as the fox. People who wouldn’t dream of encouraging mice or rats on to their property are nevertheless happy to put out food for urban foxes night after night – and work themselves into a frenzy of indignation if they hear of a single fox being dispatched as a pest.

How do foxes repay this generosity? Not very well. Besides a tendency to sniff out hen houses and destroy every living creature they find within them, there has been a steady rise in horror stories in recent years of foxes that have crept into houses and injured young children.

Mr Maugham, an outspoken remain-backing lawyer and newspaper columnist, tweeted: 'Already this morning I have killed a fox with a baseball bat. How's your Boxing Day going?'

Mr Maugham, an outspoken remain-backing lawyer and newspaper columnist, tweeted: ‘Already this morning I have killed a fox with a baseball bat. How’s your Boxing Day going?’

In 2010, twins in Hackney, east London, were left scarred after a fox attacked them in their cot.

In 2013, a fox bit off the finger of a one-month-old boy in a house in Bromley, Kent, and, last year, a seven-month-old from Plymouth had to have her finger surgically reattached after she was attacked at home. And so it goes on.

Every time these incidents occur, the fox-loving brigade jumps up shrieking that it is not ‘typical fox behaviour’ and that you can’t blame the poor creatures because they are only following their instincts and trying to feed their young.

'To those concerned I have broken the law, I called and spoke to the RSPCA and left my contact details,' Mr Maugham said

‘To those concerned I have broken the law, I called and spoke to the RSPCA and left my contact details,’ Mr Maugham said

That may be so, but I don’t see why, as human beings, we should not be allowed to follow our instincts to protect our young – instincts that, in some cases, demand that aggressive pests be humanely destroyed.

It isn’t just the danger foxes pose to children: they also spread a number of diseases from mange to tapeworm, which can be especially hazardous to dogs.

American scientists have also implicated foxes in the transmission of lyme disease, a devastating and potentially deadly condition spread by bites from ticks and other insects.

Following a furious outcry, Jolyon Maugham (pictured) sheepishly referred himself to the RSPCA

Following a furious outcry, Jolyon Maugham (pictured) sheepishly referred himself to the RSPCA

RSPCA England and Wales responded to Mr Maugham's post: 'This is distressing to hear'

RSPCA England and Wales responded to Mr Maugham’s post: ‘This is distressing to hear’

It is hardly as if foxes are an endangered species. According to a study by in 2017, the population of urban foxes had quadrupled to 150,000 over the previous 20 years. There are plenty of creatures that could do with a helping hand, but foxes are not one of them.

So why, when people are happy for other pests to be humanely controlled, have foxes been singled out for special treatment? The answer is partly down to fox-hunting. By a certain section of the loony Left, the fox has come to be seen as a proxy in the class struggle.

It also helps the fox’s case that it resembles some of the cuter breeds of domesticated dog. But foxes are not domesticated and should not be treated as such. I am all for biodiversity, and for protecting individual animals against unnecessary suffering, but their numbers need to be controlled and, yes, killing them humanely is part of that.

NO says Ben Fogle

Which came first: the QC or the fox? I’m afraid the science is clear: foxes have lived in Britain for thousands of years, long before horsehair wigs.

Reading reports yesterday of the bludgeoning to death of a blameless fox, I wondered whether lawyers wielding baseball bats might be the real invasive species.

In the countryside, foxes dodge the hunters’ hounds; in our busiest cities, they tread with a silent intelligence, living just alongside us, though rarely seen.

Far from considering them a pest, we should pause for a moment and savour the enchanting beauty of these remarkable creatures.

What the law says about killing foxes 

Foxes do not have protected status in the UK, so it is not an outright offence to kill them.

However, it is illegal to cause an animal ‘unnecessary suffering’ under the terms of the Animal Welfare Act. It also means some methods of killing, including poisoning, stabbing and – according to fox control group Fox-a-gon – clubbing, are illegal.

Those found guilty under the legislation can be jailed and fined up to £20,000. Government guidelines say that foxes can be lured into cage traps and snares and these should be checked at least once a day to prevent suffering.

Captured foxes must then be ‘humanely killed’. It is legal to shoot foxes, but anyone using a weapon must have a licence. Hunting foxes with dogs was outlawed by the Labour government in 2004.  

I have loved them since I first saw one as a young child in West Sussex. It was early one midsummer evening and I was playing alone in the woods near our house.

Suddenly there appeared a bright flash of burning orange: intelligent eyes, pointy ears, a belly of soft white fur. We both froze, then he disappeared into the forest. It was a moment I will never forget.

South Africa may have her lions, Rwanda her gorillas, Russia her polar bears and Canada her wolves. But Britain’s fantastic Mr Fox – clever, resilient and proudly independent – is surely our rightful national animal. 

Yet how we love to control our environment here: unlike other European nations, we don’t accept the idea that another predator, even one largely harmless to humans, could live in close proximity to us.

That’s why, if a fox ever scratches a human – a vanishingly rare event – it’s almost front-page news.

In West London, where I live, we often hear the vixen’s piercing cries in the night: their attempts to attract mates and not, as some people believe, noises made during the throes of passion.

They infuriate our dogs and irritate our gardener by marking ‘their’ territory with pungent urine, but I love them nonetheless. Recently some friends who live in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest came to visit. 

They, who exist in such close proximity to a rich abundance of wildlife, were mesmerised by the foxes that live in the little park next to our house. Every evening they would go and stare at them in silent wonder. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

So when people say foxes have no place in cities or, for that matter, the countryside, I respectfully but firmly disagree.

I have seen for myself how foxes kill chickens and other small livestock, and felt sad for those animals. But a fox, as even my children understand, is a predator: millions of years of evolution have honed its instinct to hunt.

In Britain, for decades, we have waged a war against our wildlife, fought with intensive agriculture, pesticides and countless other weapons – including baseball bats. 

Why do we so often leap for a lethal ‘solution’ against animals, instead of living alongside them and enjoying their beauty? For at the heart of this debate lies the question: who really has the ‘right to roam’? Just us humans, or the animals that make up nature alongside us?

If we truly want to protect our countryside, we should also protect the precious wildlife we live alongside.

The beautiful and wily fox must remain at the heart of it – as quintessentially British as the monarchy.

  • Ben Fogle’s children’s book, Mr Dog and the Faraway Fox, is out now.