Big thank you from

The sheep and the fox getting along just fine

by Paul Cormacain

I HAD occasion to visit Crannog in Donegal last week. The sun shone, the weather was mild and all was at peace in the world. Or so it seemed.

One reason was to listen for the corncrake, another reason was to listen for the cuckoo, we also wanted to see some wheatears, stonechats and red throated divers.

So I'll tell you what we did see. We looked out the front window one morning and saw a dog, or something, among the sheep in the field across the road.

It did not look quite right. We went for the binoculars, looked again, and were surprised and astonished to see a fox.

OK, the sun was shining, it was about nine o'clock in the morning, the nearest neighbour was about a field away, so what else would you expect to see but a fox. I was trying for a good look at him when I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye.

On training my binoculars on the movement I discovered a second fox.

This was getting exciting. Then I saw another movement, and discovered another fox. Suddenly there were three foxes in the field across the road.

Three foxes merited a good look! They were young, all from one family. Mama and Papa were enjoying the sun underground, the young were letting off some steam, learning about their environment, playing, experimenting with new skills.

They stayed in the sun until midday or shortly afterwards, so we managed a good look at them.

The sheep in the field ignored them, they ignored the sheep. The least I expected was that the playful youngsters would at least make a mock rush towards a lamb or sheep, but nothing like that took place, with each type of animal being indifferent towards the other.

Now foxes have a dreadfully bad name in relation to killing poultry and lambs.

There is no doubt that if a fox gets to birds he goes mad. A domestic hen run with a fox in it quickly becomes a bird cemetery. The fox will lash out, killing in seconds, and it is believed that the panic in the remaining birds is then transferred to the fox, who continues with his mad and bloody spree.

Gamekeepers who rear bids to be shot, know all about the visitation by foxes. If they had a pen of, say, pheasants, and the fox got in, goodbye pheasants. So you can see how foxes are so unpopular with folk who rear birds.

Folk who breed sheep also dislike foxes. They accuse foxes of killing sheep, and at the drop of a hat will go and get a gun to go on the warpath with foxes. I have actually witnessed this.

Foxes are great carrion eaters. If there is a dead lamb or sheep about they will be the first to find it and having found it they will eat it.

So if a farmer sees a fox eating sheep, his assumption is that that the fox has killed the sheep. Likewise with lambs, and indeed afterbirth.

Foxes will gobble all up, a sort of field cleaner. If the fox had killed someone would have seen some of the kills, and would not be hesitant about telling the neighbours, if only to justify, fox-killing.

But there are next to none documented tales of foxes killing lambs, and conservationists and fox lovers would say the fox only picks up dead matter.

Speaking to Drew's friend since I saw the three foxes, he was able to tell me that at the weekend he had seen three lambs outside a fox den, all food for the foxes.

No one had seen the foxes kill, but they surely could see the carcasses outside the fox hole. Ergo, the foxes had killed.

Some foxes do kill some lambs and some sheep. Difficult to quantify, but this does not justify damming all foxes. I have seen more of Man's Best Friend chasing after sheep and lambs than I have seen foxes doing the same thing 1, have yet to hear of any requests to kill all dogs on sight.

It is possible there will be more research done in the future, when we shall come closer to the truth about foxes, dogs and sheep.

In the meantime I have to say I enjoyed immensely the sight of three young foxes. On and off, over a period of three hours, we watched them. They played, gambolled, learned new skills, in a morning of unparalleled fun.

Coming Events


Saturday 26 May - Want to see some butterflies at Brackagh Moss at 10.30? Details from Adrian Kernohan, 028 9335 5565

Sunday 27 May - Sliabh Beagh Walking Festival at Fivemiletown, details from Peggy Reilly 028 6775 1918.

Thursday 31 May - Birdwatch Morning at 10.30 at Castle Espie who may be contacted on 028 9187 4146

1 to 3 June - Ornithologists' Club field trip to Tory Island, more from 028 9263 9254

Saturday 2 June - There may yet be a Mourne Mountain Walk at 10.30. Check it out with Mourne Heritage on 028 4372 4059

Wednesday 6 June - There may yet be a Discovery of Glenside Woodland, at 7.30pm, but you can check by phoning 028 9040 1684

Sunday 10 June - There may yet be a Mourne Walk at 10.30 on this day, but check with 028 4372 4059

There may yet be a butterfly walk at Drumlamph, at 11.00, but phone Butterfly Conservation at 028 9127 5785

There may yet be a Walkathon along the Lagan Towpath at 2pm, but do contact NICHS on 028 9037 0373

Ulster Star