By Nick MacWilliam
When you think of the words 'Stoke' and 'Newington' what comes to mind? Vibrant example of successful multiculturalism? Bohemian hideaway of the dissenting and disillusioned? Over-priced and pretentious wanker-magnet?
It may not be any of these but I'll hazard a guess that its not 'wildlife sanctuary' either. Okay, so it's hardly the Masai Mara but there are a number of birds and beasts that dwell within N16's borders nowadays and I'm not just talking rats and pigeons. From the herons that flit between the reservoir and the ponds they share with terrapins in Clissold Park to the badgers in Abney Park cemetery, it seems that the city is now as teeming with nature as the countryside. Welcome to the jungle.
Of all our furry and feathered neighbours, there is one who garners loathing and affection in equal measure. According to what side your bread is buttered on, he is an illegal immigrant who makes people's lives miserable through wanton destruction and noise or a plucky rebel thriving in the face of adversity. He is, of course, the urban fox. And he loves it round here.
If official figures are to be believed, there are now around 10,000 foxes within London and a fair few of these can call Stokey their home. A recent Channel 4 documentary focused on these non-council-tax-paying Hackney inhabitants, alongside a number of other local residents whose lives are in some way affected by these furballs. The lovers would encourage their presence by leaving out food and generally making their gardens 'fox-friendly', while the haters sought to deter the red menace with the tried and trusted method of bullets in brains. Now, to me this seems excessive and helps to explain why, along with the English language, the dwindling numbers of several species around the world is one of the more enduring legacies of British colonialism.
The racket that foxes make at ungodly hours is a premium source of bitterness, and I must confess to having been woken up by their screeching on school nights (apparently they do this after sex when the male is unable to withdraw from his partner for up to an hour: a cry of pain, frustration and perhaps even embarrassment). It's not pleasant, but if you're going to advocate killing foxes on these grounds, then what about all those policemen who find it necessary to turn their sirens up to 11 as they hurtle down deserted residential streets at 3am, in full-on Sweeney car chase mode? What about culling them too? And everyone with a car alarm while we're at it. You might even get eight hours unbroken sleep.
Wildlife in the city is something that is well worth preserving. The educational benefits are there as children learn to understand and respect mother nature. I can recall seeing foxes in my back garden when I was a kid and getting very excited. In my experience children love animals: this is a positive aspect of childhood which ought to be encouraged. Access and proximity to wild animals can do that.
The fact that animals are able to thrive in a metropolis is surely a good thing as well. Most stories regarding the environment these days are gloomy affairs to which the success of a species on our doorstep can offer some respite. Foxes might not be as majestic as polar bears or as graceful as whales, and are not in danger of extinction, but they are native to Britain and, considering that so many other indigenous species are long gone from this island, should be protected.
You don't have to carry a Linda McCartney reward card to be concerned about the environment, nor do you have to join Greenpeace. I simply feel that we should look after the natural world around us, even if it does inconvenience us at times. Power to the foxes, I say. And it's not only them either. Next issue I'll be explaining how grey squirrels can help broker diplomatic relations between the US and Iran. You'll be nuts to miss it.