Predator control is one of the key tasks for anyone managing the countryside. To help wildlife in general thrive, having the right habitat is the first thing that needs to be right but you can have the most appropriate habitat and it will be of no use at all if that habitat is full of vermin and predators.
One of the main predators that has to be kept under control is the fox who will welcome anything as a “ready meal” whether that be a nesting bird, some newly hatched fledglings or the traditional chickens in the coop. Foxes have no natural predator themselves so, left unchecked, they can rapidly overrun an area and push nature out of balance. This is not helped by some organisations catching foxes from an urban environment and releasing them in a rural one which is not fair on the rural environment nor is it fair on the urban fox who is used to feeding itself from waste food rather than having to hunt and catch its dinner.
Foxes by nature are a nocturnal hunter and they are rarely seen in the country during daylight hours (indeed, if you do see them during daylight then you know you have a major fox problem). Thus, one of the main ways of controlling them is to shoot them by spotlight or “lamping”.
Lamping involves driving round the area of ground concerned in a 4×4 or on a quad bike with a high voltage spotlight which is used to scan the ground to see what is there. The light is so bright that it will dazzle anything it shines on and the eyes of the animals reflect back even when the animal is partly hidden so you know what you are looking at.
In general terms, red/orange eyes signify a fox or other predator such as a cat. Green would tend to be deer, sheep or other similar herbivores and, when scanning the area, on seeing green eyes you should move the lamp quickly on so as not to disturb the animal. On seeing red/orange eyes, the lamp is held on the eyes to dazzle the prey allowing you a stationary target to aim at.
Lamping on your own is difficult to do as you need to control the lamp whilst trying to take a clean shot. Thus it is often done in pairs with one controlling the lamp and the other taking the shot. There are rifle-mounted spotlights available that effectively enable you to lamp on your own using a hand held or vehicle-mounted spotlight for the general search and, once you have spotted something, to switch to the rifle mounted one to take the shot.
Lamping is also used to control rabbits which are also a nocturnal animal and which can cause large scale crop damage if left unchecked.
It can be hugely rewarding knowing that, in controlling the predators, one is helping keep nature in balance and allowing species lower down the food chain to have a chance to thrive.
When you see spotlights playing across fields at night as you drive past or look out of your window, know that the local gamekeeper or farmer is out there doing his bit to keep the countryside looking the way it does and to keeping nature in balance by keeping the predators at the top of the food chain under control.