Monday, 9 December 2013

Foxes and fings

As I suggested I would do at the end of my last posting, I arrived at the reserve yesterday morning at dawn, and just as the eastern sky was beginning to turn pink as the sun began to climb below the horizon.
I just love the dawn, no matter what time of year it is, it offers much promise for the ensuing day, it doesn't always turn out to be good but for that brief period in time, hope is always there. This photo looks eastwards along the reserve sea wall and in the distance you can just make out the buildings inside Shellness Hamlet.

Everything about that time of day is so great, birds become active again after a long night, they become vocal and the marsh echos to their calls, the sun gradually creeps higher until it peeps over the distant hills, the last dark corners brighten up and all of a sudden a new day is fully lit. The Greylag Geese below could feel it and they moved into the reserve for a wash and brush up after pre-dawn feeding out on the farmland winter corn fields.
Apart from the opportunity to enjoy such a wonderful time of day, I was also there to see if the local wildfowlers were out and about on the saltings, they've been so quiet this season, but despite the lure of the Greylag and White-fronted Geese there was nobody about, except a lone and early birdwatcher who appeared along the sea wall as the light began to brighten.

Driving home after my visit, I came across this young fox by "Capel Corner" along the Harty Road. It was drinking from a roadside puddle and as far as I could see it was fit and healthy, but it made no attempt to run off as my car approached. I drove past a few yards and stopped in the road, wondering if I might get a photo or two. By the time that I got out of the car the fox was sitting in the middle of the road, about ten yards away and seemingly taking in the view, not the way that nervous and truly wild foxes act.  

 I took a couple of photos and then to my amazement and despite the rabid barking of my two terriers who were looking at the "enemy" through the rear window of the car, the fox began to walk towards me. It got to within five yards and then eventually the barking of the dogs deterred it from getting any closer but I'm sure that without them there that I could of possibly almost stroked it.

Clearly this fox was not acting like any fox that I had come across on the Sheppey marshes, most get one glimpse of you and turn and run for their lives, this one was almost tame. It wasn't there when I went past earlier that morning, I came to suspect that some "do-gooder" had released it, hoping that it would have a happy life after being returned to the countryside, but it doesn't work like that. Elmley NNR has suffered for years from foxes, captured in cities such as London and being illegally released along the track out there.  They can be as unsure and scared of the wild countryside as some humans are and their trusting nature simply makes them vulnerable to being shot, the one above will surely suffer that fate in the near future.
Now I have mixed feelings in respect of foxes, having watched them almost wipe out a breeding colony of Avocets on the reserve, I fully accept and agree with then being controlled in the countryside where vulnerable species become threatened by their increased predation, but after yesterday the "but" gets much bigger. Looking at that young fox sitting on the road looking bewildered, it was almost like looking at one of my dogs and I know I could never be the one that pulled the trigger on it.    

Leaving that confusing and emotional subject behind, lets look at last week's mega North Sea surge. For many years I have complained and written to the Environment Agency about their annual mowing of the sea wall in front of the reserve. So many butterflies, moths and other types of wildlife use the long grass of the sea walls as both their refuge and breeding site that it has always seemed to be environmental vandalism to mow them so short every year. But at a pre-Christmas get-together at Elmley yesterday, all became clear. Apparently, if seawater manages to clear the top of the wall and run down the overgrown inland side of the wall, it will have to run through the tangled and un-mown vegetation and in doing so rips out the vegetation and then the exposed soil it is growing in. This happened to a section of the Elmley sea wall in last week's surge between Elmley Hill and the Elmley Ferry site. The sea wall there is lower than some others on Sheppey and as a result was over-topped and erosion was caused on the inland side, potentially weakening the wall and allowing some sea water to get into the fresh water fleet alongside. Photos taken by the reserve management show this to be case but fortunately they had their own on-site JCB and this quickly repaired the damage.


  1. Sound a great morning. I agree Derek, you can't beat an early start all made better by the lovely fox view.

  2. Well said Marc, and you always start even earlier than me.

  3. I've had several similar experiences with the same fox there Derek. Day and night. It scared an Owl off a post there the other night, then jumped on and ate prey from right under the Owl's hunting post! Must be an urban one released there. Maybe one from the white vans that used to dump them on the Elmley track. Hopefully the anti-predator gates act as at least a partial deterrent to those vans now.


  4. Bryan,
    Apparently the white van still does visit the Elmley track but as you suggest, it can only dump the foxes on outside the fence now.
    Going back to the Capel fox, it seems it is on borrowed time. I was talking to the farmer there this morning and he intends "removing" it.