– Cox’s Walk, London, July 2012
We’re coming toward the end of our bat transect, our detectors raised into a night lit by the orange glow of a line of streetlamps and closed by the canopy of oak. Nothing. Further up the slope there was a hint of a noctule bat’s chip-chop call coming through the static of the airwaves, but nothing else. Rain begins to fall and we make our final marks on the record sheet. There are very few bats around, the woodland all but shorn of them. At the bottom of the path are two figures, a third, dwarfish silhouette evidently that of a large dog. From here it’s unclear whether they are moving away or towards us. A fox appears between us and, turning to look back from where we’ve come there rests another. In this break of light and dark, the fox watches us with content, almost with sympathy. Nevertheless, we’re surrounded.
As time goes and our chatter dwindles, the people approach. It’s a man dressed in a cream suit and a woman. He is indeed rotund, stopping and strolling, she strafing either side of him, circling tree trunks, in and out of darkness. We’ve finished now – there’s no point dawdling – no one says anything about it, but there’s a sense of apprehension. We stop – I don’t know why. I call out: we’re doing a bat survey! I’m shaking the black box in the air. A voice travels back:
‘You can do what you like.’
The fox at the top continues in its restful manner. We are the scene.
The woman is clear now, she wears blue dungarees and a red bandana holding up dreadlocks. She disappears behind an oak trunk, flashing us a glance, like a child playing cowboys and Indians. She smiles, emptying a plastic bucket around the trunk. The man has stopped, I can see his large oval spectacles. He turns to the tall iron fence protecting a small copse of maturing silver birch. The woman comes from behind the tree again:
‘Don’t be scaring me foxes away,’ she says, gently, with a hint of the Caribbean in her voice.
We all stop and look to the copse. The streetlight cast onto the trees and fence shows movements of the amber fur of a trail of fox cubs. They slink through the fence and arc towards the tree surrounded by piles of pink sludge – the contents of the lady’s bucket.
‘Ain’t they beautiful,’ says the rotund man in his cream white suit and oval spectacles.