There is an over-abundance of urban foxes in our major cities, and they can at times cause problems. But before calling for immediate culls, it is worth exploring the problem.
Why are there so many foxes in our cities? Population numbers expand to the limit of the food supply. This urban foxy food comes from wasteful and sloppy human beings who discard 30 per cent of their food and do not protect the discards from the attentions of scavengers.
What would be the results of a cull of urban foxes? In the long run none at all, for the fox population would quickly recover to take advantage of the bountiful food supply. For a permanent effect the cull would have to be continued or repeated indefinitely.
What then would happen to all this freebie food? It would be eaten by rats, which erstwhile had been deprived of this food source by the foxes, which would also have predated the rats, keeping their numbers in check. The result might be a plague of rats. Urban foxes may actually perform a kind of civic duty in clearing up unhygienic food discards and controlling rats.
A much more sensible solution is a much-improved and fox- and rat-proof disposal system for food refuse, in place of black polythene sacks.
The recent incidents of foxes attacking infants in urban homes, in which, inexplicably, downstairs doors or windows have been left open, is shocking. But foxes are wild predators and opportunists. Obtaining food by predation of infant animals (rabbits, lambs etc) is part of their natural behaviour.
It would be a shame for urban areas to lose all their foxes, as fleeting visions of the wild must come as a delight to many. The complete elimination of urban foxes would be virtually impossible, but sensible measures might control numbers.
Boris Johnson appears to have ignited a debate on the urban fox which may be timely.
It seems that for years, London boroughs have tolerated the presence of urban foxes and have largely ignored complaints from residents about noise, damage and fouling.
When I contacted my local council some years ago for advice, I was sent a leaflet from a charity which included a section on "How to feed your foxes". Is it any wonder that their population is growing out of control?
It's time to eliminate the urban fox, which has become vermin. Each town should have its own hunt with pink-clad huntsmen on bicycles.
What a wonderful social opportunity for the unemployed.
A chance to open up the Church
The brave decision of Pope Benedict to resign offers an opportunity to open up the windows of an increasingly cleric-dominated Church to the wider world.
The new Pope certainly has a challenge ahead of him. He will need to address corruption in the Church, including the ongoing disgrace of child abuse. At the heart of many of these problems remain the unaccountable structures of Church, which need to change for the 21st century. The hierarchical structure needs to be democratised, with, above all, clergy being made accountable to laity.
The hope must be that the new Pope turns out to be in the likeness of the great reforming Pope John XXIII, who set in train the reforming Second Vatican Council. Indeed, the crisis at the moment is so great that Vatican III may well be required if the Church is ever to get back on the right path.
By abruptly resigning and not seeing it through to his natural end, the present Pope has effectively reduced the Pontificate to nothing more than a mundane directorship which can be given up whenever the incumbent feels he has had enough and would like to put his feet up.
It makes a mockery of the claim that each Pontiff is elected into office as Peter's infallible successor by the divine guidance of the Almighty. "What God has joined together let no man put asunder" might equally be applied to the Papacy.
Cardinal Ratzinger's sudden unilateral divorce from his office has set a dangerous precedent which will undermine the credibility of his Church in general and the Vatican in particular.
Civil partnership devalued
At our civil partnership ceremony in 2006 my partner and I made three points clear to our many guests: we were celebrating our love for each other, the friendship of our guests and the passing of the Civil Partnership Act, crowning our 32 years of campaigning together. We campaigned for equality and the Act of 2004 gave us that. In our campaigns we never asked to become like straight people, just to be made equal in every way.
It was something of a surprise, therefore, when the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was introduced to Parliament earlier this year. The LGBT campaigning organisations could hardly do other than welcome this initiative, but their priorities appeared to be elsewhere before this Bill was announced.
This unseemly haste to expand the definition of marriage has devalued the respect civil partnership had earned – now its status is somewhat less than marriage, apparently. While it is heartwarming to see the number of MPs and commentators willing to speak in favour of this Bill it is regrettable that it provided a rallying point for those who still do not see LGBT people as equal members of society. This will do little to help those nervous about the sexuality they are beginning to find within themselves, and the strident debate must be unhelpful to them.
Matthew Norman (11 February) says Chris Grayling is befuddled and questions his mental state because he wants to separate gay prisoners while voting for gay marriage.
I think Mr Norman is missing the point. Gay marriage (after all it is just a word, because legally there is no difference between marriage and a civil partnership) is all about giving gays exactly the same rights as heterosexuals. As we don't allow men and women to sleep together in their cells to allow gays to do so would be blatant discrimination.
If gays want complete equality, they will have to be separated while in prison.
My country always wrong
When I was at secondary school in the 1950s, history was taught from the perspective of monarchy, nation and empire. By the time my daughter was studying history in the 1980s, I was pleased to see that this agenda had gone.
However, I was less pleased that it had not given way to the encouragement of "scepticism and critical engagement with evidence" which Katherine Edwards (letter, 9 February) and I think important, but simply that one set of orthodoxies had given way to another. Nationalism had given way to relativist multiculturalism, my country right or wrong to my country always wrong. It was as difficult for her to ask for "objectivity, neutrality and balance" when discussing Britain's role in the slave trade as it would have been for me 30 years previously when discussing, say, the bombing of Dresden.
History had been conflated with the raising of awareness, as illustrated by the current controversy surrounding Mary Seacole, and propaganda just replaced by different propaganda. Ms Edwards is right that history teaching is not going to get "objectivity, neutrality and balance" from Mr Gove's proposed curriculum – but let's not kid ourselves that those qualities would come from the left either.
It is now incumbent upon teachers of history to prepare to resist absolutely Mr Gove's wish to recruit their subject in the service of a blinkered and nationalistic political agenda.
As we approach the anniversary of the start of the truly appalling mess that was the First World War we must not let politicians use our schools as breeding-grounds for yet another generation of foolishly-willing cannon-fodder.
The proper study of humankind is humanity – not "being British".
Horse: you know you like it really
Media reports say Findus have withdrawn over 300,000 of their ready meals from the shelves. Such a quantity says they had a product that many people enjoyed buying and there is an underlying public taste for horse meat. Albeit sold as beef!
I hope once the perverse media frenzy against this healthier option abates we can all start to enjoy what we know we really like, horse burgers and horse lasagne.
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire
In this country, it is now the norm to feed infants on processed food. People who mash ordinary food for their babies are seen as veering towards the lunatic fringe.
We entrust the nourishment of our babies to industrial food producers, and the quality is usually good. However this sets up a belief that processed food is a reasonable first choice throughout life, not a poor second best. A campaign for real baby food might help to change hearts and minds, as the Breast is Best campaign has helped to reduce bottle feeding.
Beyond a joke
The only good thing to come out of the recession and all related banking crises has been Dave Brown's cartoons. Each day I can't wait to see what foul indignities he has visited on our great and good. But after today's (12 February) I fear for his freedom! Surely a spell in the Tower beckons? Perhaps The Independent should set up a fighting fund for when authority can no longer stomach funny abuse.
Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex
From your report of 11 February it seems that Romania is guilty of serious human rights abuses in respect of its Roma citizens, going back many years. Given that this is the case, why was Romania admitted to membership of the EU?
In commenting on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's weight and whether it precludes him from being US President, I'm surprised Dominic Lawson (12 February) didn't make one suggestion. The Governor could leave frontline politics, address his serious weight problem and then publish a best-selling celebrity diet book. I believe there is a UK precedent.
Dr Alex May
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