The Things That Shaped Our Year: The Return Of The Fox

From the death of Diana to the birth of Dolly, and from the rise of Bridget Jones to the fall of the Spice Girls - our writers choose the 10 people and events which made 1997 so special
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The Independent Culture
Among The odder news items of 1997 was a report that British zoos are getting an increasing number of requests from people for lion and tiger poo. Spread on a suburban garden, big-cat dung is supposed to help keep foxes off. And now that townies have learnt how destructive foxes can be, they don't want them in their backyard.

But that doesn't mean they like the idea of foxes being torn apart by rich men's hounds. Which is why the dung-spreading Nimbys of Hampstead are also supporters of the private member's bill to ban fox-hunting, which stands a good chance, in 1998, of becoming law.

In July, a massive rally of country-dwellers met in Hyde Park to voice their opposition to this bill. It isn't only an ancient rural tradition they want to preserve, but jobs: up to 15,000 may disappear if fox-hunting is outlawed. Behind these protests lie other rural resentments: against the closing of post offices, the trimming of bus services, the merging of village schools, the encroachment of commuting weekenders - and against a Government that doesn't seem to give a damn.

Whether the fox itself will benefit from a change in the law is doubtful. In the country, most foxes will continue to die as they do now, by being poisoned, trapped or shot. In London (where there are now twice as many foxes as in the outlying rural South-East) most will be killed on the roads. A strong argument can be put that hunting is the best way of controlling and preserving species of game. The Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, has made a forceful case in relation to the red deer of Exmoor: a hunting ban will increase poaching and culling, he says, and a photo of a heap of stag antlers in last month's newspapers appears to bear out his claim.

But Tony Blair, in implicitly lending his support to a hunting ban, knows that he has the majority of the British public on his side. A recent Gallup poll suggested that 63 per cent of the public would like to see fox-hunting outlawed. And though this is exactly the same figure as 40 years ago, the rise of the eco lobby in the Nineties makes a ban in the era of Blair and Straw much more likely than it was in the days of Macmillan and Douglas- Home.

It's been a notable year for eco-warriors generally, with Daniel Hooper, aka Swampy, digging in first against the Newbury bypass then against Manchester Airport's second runway. With his love for trees, dogs, Pot Noodles and, above all, his mum, Swampy is the friendly, dreadlock-framed face of environmental protest, and his ingenious methods have captured the public imagination: tunnelling evokes the spirit of the Somme (it was no surprise when an 86-year-old Army brigadier came out as a Swampyite), and people living in trees belong to children's folklore. True, some Mancunians have grumbled that Swampy is a Home Counties yuppie out of touch with local support for a second runway, and the Cheshire Wildlife Trust protested that Swampy's camps were causing "untold damage" to ancient woodland and grassland. But Swampy's celebrity tends to drown out such voices.

Allegiances can be confusing. Those in favour of fox-hunting love the countryside and don't want to see it changed. Ditto Swampy. Shouldn't they join forces, then? One safe prediction for 1998 is that they won't.

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