Published: 09:37, 13 May 2021
| Updated: 15:06, 13 May 2021
“It has evolved without my permission really,” jokes Trevor Williams, a founder of The Fox Project, a charity which this year is set to treat 1,400 foxes.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the organisation based in Kent but, back in 1991, it had humbler aims and was set up as a wildlife information bureau.
Three decades on, The Fox Project is supported by seven staff and scores of volunteers and runs a site to look after cubs and a wildlife hospital.
Mr Williams said: “Life just happens to you.
“It started out just being me. Although there were several founders, I was the only active one who was going to be involved and I thought it was going to stay that way.
“But it has grown from its first year as a wildlife hospital in 1993 - where we only had three rescues and we weren’t really intending to be a rescue group - to going up to 750 in eight years.
“Then the year before last, it was 1,250 and, now, we are looking at possibly taking in about 1,400 this year.”
Mr Williams, who says now is one of the busiest times of the year as fox cubs are usually born towards the end of March and looked after throughout the summer, before being released to the wild, believes this is largely to do with the fact they are specialists at the charity.
“It grows and grows,” he admitted.
“Partly, that is down to reputation because we are specialists. Organisations like the RSPCA and other wildlife organisations tend to use us a lot because we know our subjects that much better, basically, because we specialise.
“Most wildlife hospitals generalise - they take in lots of different species - but that means they have got to know a lot about a lot of species which is kind of hard.
“You could argue it is a lot easier to know about one because you become a specialist and fairly expert at dealing with them when you only deal with one. So that has worked well.
“We have got a loyal following and we have got a lot of support from other organisations who need us as much as we need them.”
Mr Williams says the charity - which has broadcaster and naturalist Chris Packham as a patron - didn’t have a single person affected by coronavirus last year and the 76-year-old believes this is largely due to the network they use, where volunteer fosterers can work from their own houses.
“Volunteers are absolutely crucial,” said Mr Williams, a musician who played bass in the cult prog-rock band Audience that first existed in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“Money is important - that too is crucial - because something has got to pay for the system.
“But we have a good database of fox volunteers who are fox-friendly and that is very good. But with all the money in the world, if you don’t have the help, you can’t do the job.
“So volunteers are essential. So we are always on the look-out for people who might want to get involved. We cover Kent and East Sussex, primarily.”
He says most their volunteers currently come from Kent.
This role is quite a change of direction for Mr Williams who was on the music circuit and formerly part of the Audience band which existed from 1969 until 1972 alongside Howard Werth, Keith Gemmell and Tony Connor.
They reformed in 2004 but Mr Williams has not been involved on the music scene since Audience folded in 2013. Arguably their biggest hit, The House On The Hill, has had more than 17,000 views on YouTube.
On how the pandemic impacted the charity, he said: “It affected how we operated. We had to keep ourselves socially-distanced a lot more than we previously did.
“But somehow or other, we got by.
“That is partly, I think, through that networking thing where we were working with people, who were working from their own homes. That meant we were able to move animals around, drop them off in their pens and go away again once we had done.
“If we had been on one premises, like most wildlife hospitals are, we would have had a lot more trouble because volunteers wouldn’t have come to us more readily.
“It didn’t make a lot of difference to us because our volunteers are working from their own homes.”
Mr Williams says all UK foxes are red foxes, and he explained how the charity has evolved over the years.
He said: “Initially, as a wildlife information bureau, working with local authorities, we tried to offer them a service which was helping people to resolve problems in their gardens without capital punishment, basically.
“So it started out as being a humane fox deterrent.
“It was also a general wildlife information bureau because, back in those days, there wasn’t really anywhere you could go to - even as little as 30 years ago - to ask questions about foxes.
“Bearing in mind we have had urban foxes since the late 1940s, really, there was nowhere people could go to find out information about them and find out what they are all about.
"It grows and grows..."
“So we felt there was a need for an information bureau.
“After a few years, that developed into a wildlife rescue organisation as well. It has become the biggest fox hospital in the country.
“We take in somewhere between 1,200 to 1,400 foxes a year, I suppose. This point of the year is the cub season, so we expect to get in about 250 cubs that we have to get back to the wild at the end of summer.
“It is quite an operation. There are only seven staff but there are about 120 volunteers involved in it, so there is a fair old network of assistance that we have got.”
Mr Williams says Mr Packham, a co-presenter of Springwatch, has always been supportive of the work they do at The Fox Project.
Mr Williams said: “He has been our patron from the word ‘Go’. He is somebody I have known since the late 1990s. He has always been very supportive.
“He lent us his name a good few years ago now, and he is very supportive. He is always around as a figurehead and a supporter.”
So, what have been the more unusual rescues which The Fox Project has done over the last 10 years?
“Well, there was the cub we called ‘Bootsie’, from Tonbridge, that ended up in a shoe shop window, staring out from the slippers at passing shoppers,” Mr Williams explained.
“There was the big dog fox we called ‘Bunker’ because he was found on a golf course with concussion. He was from Otford.
“Whether he’d been hit some distance away by a car and made it some distance before he keeled over or, if was hit on the head by a wayward golf ball, we never knew.”
A fox was also recovered in Shorne, near Gravesend, but had no fur because of mange, a skin disease caused by mites. He was named Shorn Sean.
Wildlife campaigner Anneka Svenska is another of their patrons. The charity even has a fox ambulance which is stationed and on call 12 hours a day every day of the year.
The charity relies on public donations.
For more information, including how to donate, visit The Fox Project website at foxproject.org.uk.