By Keith Broomfield

As far as accessibility was concerned, this was the fox den from hell, which to reach involved wading knee-deep across a tumbling river followed by a scramble up a steep, nettle-infested bank.

I had first noticed the site on the far bank of the river earlier in the spring when the leaf cover was still sparse, and where through gaps in the trees it was possible to glimpse a sandy mound of excavated soil at the top of a wooded slope. A badger sett, I presumed, but its inaccessibility and need to wade across the river was a discouragement for me to monitor it with my trail cameras.

But after having no luck in filming badger cubs at a more easily reached sett nearby, I decided to relocate the trail cameras to this new site. The water swirled around my legs as I forded the river, and the climb up the far slope left me puffing, but as soon as I reached the first entrance hole, the remains of a rabbit and the distinctive musky aroma made me realise this was an occupied fox den.

Badgers never leave prey remains outside their setts, whilst vixens are not so fastidious, and if prey is abundant all kinds of bits and pieces are left lying about, including birds’ wings, feathers, and rabbits’ feet.

Examining the trail camera recordings a week later confirmed that there was a fox family in residence, and it was wonderful to watch the cubs at play, tumbling and clambering over one another with the zeal that is the hallmark of young life. Curiously, my first badger sett inclination also proved correct, for adult badgers occasionally emerged from the same hole as the fox cubs.

There were several holes on the site, which was obviously quite a large sett complex, and presumably the fox family and the badgers occupied different parts, although occasionally shared the same exit holes.  Foxes are not terribly good at digging and it is much easier for a pregnant vixen to set up residence in a pre-made home, rather than going to the effort of making her own den.

It was no doubt an uneasy co-existence, with the badgers regarding the foxes a threat to their cubs and vice versa. The vixen when she appeared on camera did not look in the best of health, thin and scrawny and with a slight limp. But the cubs looked robust and the mother was obviously fit enough to catch plentiful prey.

The other big surprise about this fox family was that one of the cubs had white forepaws, which looked like neat little pale socks set against the dark legs. I had never seen such a genetic aberration before and the wee cub was cuteness personified as it cavorted around the den. On my early morning walks in the months to come, I will be keeping a keen look-out for this white-pawed beauty as it pads along field edges and hones its hunting skills for voles and rabbits.