Sutton Fen fox cubs find spark RSPB criticism

A RENOWNED artist who saved the lives of two fox cubs left starving and motherless outside his home has hit out at the RSPB’s policy of killing the animals.

Painter David Dane spoke out against the policy of predator control, which is currently being used in the wildlife haven of Sutton Fen, as a potentially “dangerous slippery slope” practice.

His words come two weeks after he took the two fox cubs into the sanctuary of his house, and four years after he welcomed the RSPB’s takeover of the site with open arms.

Mr Dane, who is known for his powerful portrayals of the Broadland landscape, had heard the barking of the three-week-old cubs from his home by the nationally important habitat for days before coming across one in his garden hedgerow.

Emphasising he hadn’t seen the vixen shot by the RSPB representatives with his own eyes, he said: “I saw one of the cubs sitting in the sunshine and she looked very tired and I could see she was close to dying.

“I thought she was such a beautiful small creature and I managed to creep around and grab her. It looked like she hadn’t eaten in two or three days.”

And it was after laying a humane trap for the second cub and trapping it that he was able to feed them before delivering them to the Foxy Lodge Wildlife Rescue and bird rescue centre in Hemsby.

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It was a situation that prompted the artist, who is in his 60s, to voice his concerns about the RSPB’s current policy for the site, which focuses only on shooting foxes.

He said: “The RSPB have a predator cull policy and I think quite a lot of supporters of the RSPB would be surprised to know foxes are shot.

“I don’t like the policy as I think it’s interfering with nature too much, and once you start interfering it’s a dangerous and slippery slope to get on.”

The fen plays host to a number of rare species, including the Desmoulin’s whorl snail, Norfolk hawker and common hawker dragonflies, and a wide range of unusual birds.

Mr Dane had been instrumental in efforts to get the RSPB to take over the land after it was sold by a wildlife-friendly farmer, and said he was still pleased the charity was looking after the fen rather than others.

However, he emphasised the previous owner left the foxes alone, believing there would not be a large number as they were territorial creatures.

He added: “The foxes were some of the most beautiful creatures I’ve seen in my life and I just feel it’s a shame they’re hounded as much as they are - a lot of people don’t want them but they’re part and parcel of the countryside and have every right to be here.”

After recovering in the care at Foxy Lodge, Bonnie and Clyde, as they were named at the care centre, have been taken on by a couple in Wales.

John Garner, who runs the rescue centre with wife Tonia, said questions needed to be asked about the basis for the RSPB’s policy.

Of the foxes, he added: “The couple in Wales contacted us last year after hearing about Baldrick the bald hedgehog. Now, the cubs live right out in the country and have no neighbours to worry about.”

A spokesman for the RSPB said that the predator control measures took place as “part of controlled, well-thought out, science-based management programme.”

She added: “Lethal methods of controlling fox populations are undertaken with careful consideration, as a last resort.

“This only happens where it is impractical or impossible to adopt non-lethal predator control and where RSPB policy addresses that these predators are causing conflict with some of the UK’s rarest birds.

“It is sad that two malnourished fox cubs have been found in this area, however the RSPB does not believe that this is as a result of their current predator control measures at Sutton Fen.”