Debate Magazine

Getting to Grips with Urban Foxes

Posted on the 14 December 2012 by Lesterjholloway @brolezholloway

foxFoxes. Love them or hate them you can’t ignore them. Which is precisely because they are everywhere. And that, apparently, is our fault for leaving too many rubbish bags outside for the foxes to rip open. Or at least that’s what the authorities tell us.


It is undeniably true that foxes would not have so much food to eat if there were not so much food to scavenge, and if every hole that made a potential den was blocked off.

Sadly life is not like that. We put the rubbish outside because it stinks. The majority have secure bins with lids but occasionally a bin is full to bursting and the rubbish sack plops on the floor next to it.

In an ideal world the sack should stay in the house or flat, but we don’t all live in Wisteria Lane and the real world isn’t like that. Besides, even if we did, the foxes would still gorge themselves on the waste left behind the local convenience store at night.

The real reason that Joe and Joanne Public cop the blame for the explosion in the fox population is because getting rid of them is a fiendishly difficult and expensive exercise and the authorities are just not up for spending that kind of cash on the problem.

There is an abundance of food and shelter to be found in London and combined with an absence of predators this means that foxes are able to thrive.

Urban foxes, like feral pigeons, come in two varieties. There are the shy, healthy-looking reddish-coloured bushy-tailed variety. And there are the mangy, emaciated, oil-stained vagrants with rat-like tails that trot along with apparent disdain for their human neighbours. Fox-lovers mentally cuddle the former image while fox-haters loath the latter.

I’m somewhere in-between. Not a surprise as a Liberal Democrat, I hear you say. But hear me out. Foxes don’t pose much of a danger to humans despite the occasional horror story in the news, and they don’t have much of a record for transferring disease. Generally they get on with their foxy lives without upsetting humankind beyond the odd ripped-up rubbish bag. But they are also undoubtedly an urban pest who do not ‘belong’ in the cities and are as much of a scavenger as rats.

I made an enquiry about foxes back in 2010 and was told this:

Foxes are a natural part of the biodiversity of the UK . However, it is recognised that fox densities in urban areas can be high. The population is ultimately limited by the amount of food and territory available. Foxes have a broad diet including worms, beetles, berries, carrion, small rodents, and birds, but as they are opportunists they will readily scavenge if there is food available.

Foxes are difficult to deal with. They have been afforded some degree of protection from cruelty under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996. Trapping urban foxes is legal but is now considered to be very ineffective and cruel. Trapping as previously mentioned is also very expensive. Because foxes are territorial, as soon as one fox is removed another will take its place. Urban foxes do not have the skills to survive in the countryside and starve to death. Shooting foxes is also legal but using guns in built up areas is not. Again because of the territorial nature of foxes, successors will quickly move into vacated areas. Poisoning, gassing and lethal trapping are all illegal.”

The only really effective way to deal with foxes is to use humane methods to deter them from gardens and surrounding areas although this will require a sustained and long programme to achieve results. Foxes, like most other animals, need food and a secure place to hide. They will frequently find both of these requirements in most neighbourhood gardens. If the food source or hiding place is removed, they will often move on.”

Just because the cost of eradicating foxes – anything up to £1,000 per fox – makes that option a non-starter should not mean that local councils and government bury their heads in the sand over the whole issue or pretend that urban foxes are cute, clean, berry-eating jewels in the biodiversity crown. In other words the absence of a neat solution should not blind us from seeing the problem.

The standard advice for dealing with foxes is this:

  • Keep poultry and pets securely housed
  • Tidy up rubbish and bramble patches (those are used as daytime refuges)
  • Put all you rubbish in the bin, not by the side or, if this is not possible, put your rubbish out in the morning and not the night before collection
  • Use commercially available deterrents to stop foxes leaving droppings in your garden
  • Make sure there are no entrances underneath your house/sheds.

The oft-quoted figure of 40,000 foxes living in cities may well be an under-estimate but as no authority actually monitors them your guess is as good as mine.

It is clear that lethal control is not effective; one fox will simply move into the territory of another that a dead one has vacated. In any case there was a nationwide program to cull foxes that ran for more than 30 years but fox numbers did not noticeably decline.

Pesticides are illegal. Trapping is equally ineffective, and releasing trapped foxes is useless unless they are transported to the Outer Hebrides as foxes have been known to saunter ‘home’ from distances of up to 150 kilometres away.

So where do we go from here? Well, we could start with a change in mentality that underplays the problem or overplays the animal welfare line. Monitoring numbers and trends will also not go amiss.

But what policy-makers should consider is setting up a national fund to identify and seal fox dens. We need to identify key fox-feeding areas and introduce measures that solve the problem like extra bins where regular rubbish overspills lay on fox-feasts.

Starting with the areas of highest fox population and working down, such a fund will allow local authorities to humanly get to grips with the issue at source rather than blaming us, the public, for somehow encouraging foxes with our behaviour.

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog