Nothing divides opinion in our north London street more passionately than the issue of neighbourhood foxes. To cull or keep, that is the question.
When an email circular was sent out inviting support for bringing in a man to shoot the foxes on one side of the street, there was outcry. For as many people who supported the idea, there were as many who were vociferously against it.
One point of view would have it that the urban fox is fearless, feral and a threat to life as we know it. These mangy-looking creatures are a far cry from the tawny red country cousins that live in picture books. They prowl our streets at night, barking and screaming, tipping over bins, scattering food and rubbish, digging up gardens and decapitating unlucky pet animals, leaving behind their distinctive scent. There are reports of them entering houses, biting sleeping children and adults. Their population is increasing. We will soon be over-run.
At the other extreme, is the argument that these are God's creatures with as much right as us to their place on the planet. The argument that any trap is set with dog food and water, large enough for the animal to move around comfortably before it is disposed of with a single shot, cuts no ice with them. Some neighbours find them as charming as squirrels, as in need of protection and feeding. I've seen eggs deliberately broken at the foot of a tree, tins of dog food emptied onto the street. One woman who regularly fed the neighbourhood foxes moved out of the area, only to give her former neighbour money to buy two chickens a week to be cooked and put out for the neighbourhood foxes.
Somewhere in the middle are the pragmatists. There is no evidence to support the claim that the urban fox population is increasing. If a pair of foxes is removed from an area, another pair will quickly take their place. The RSPCA and other animal organisations advise measures to be against this urban nuisance. If food is unavailable, the population will diminish. If we take precautions, wiring off our garden, locking our pets in cages with bases a fox can't dig through, shutting our window and doors on summer nights, keeping our dustbins securely shut or locked away, the foxes will have nothing to tempt them and their population will diminish through natural attrition.
But isn't this unrealistic? Black bin bags of rubbish are dumped in the street awaiting collection. By locking ourselves into our houses and surrounding our gardens with wire fences, or taking other security measures, we would be as good as incarcerating ourselves.
I speak as one whose family rabbit had its head ripped off by a fox and whose school guinea pig didn't return for the new term. Personally, I'd be happy if I never stared down another of the mangy creatures again, or watched them skulk down the garden, getting too close to the house. Unlike a good friend, I at least haven't woken with one sitting on my bed, watching me. I believe the stories about people who have been bitten by foxes in their own home. I wouldn't object if someone inaugurated the N1 hunt or ran them out of town. But now I realise the pointlessness of destroying them. Whatever's done will make no difference to the fox population. Perhaps we have to agree to live and let live. Not just with the foxes but also with those with views so radically opposed to one's own.