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Foxes (urban)

Introduction

This information is designed to shed some light on the urban fox, its habits and characteristics and answer the most commonly asked questions. Described in the Concise Oxford Dictionary as a 'red-furred bushy tailed carnivorous quadruped preserved in England etc. as beast of chase, proverbial for cunning', it has become steeped in folk lore and has earned a reputation as a highly intelligent survivor. It has also been described as jack of all trades and master of a few of them.

Throughout the Borough where there is medium density housing, such as in Hill Head, Stubbington and Locks Heath, the fox has adapted to the challenges of urban life and flourished. Its population has largely co-existed with man without too much disruption to either party, but on occasions foxes can cause an inconvenience to householders and their presence can be unwanted. Remember that the urban fox was created by man – a reflection of urban expansion into the countryside and natural home of the fox. Never far from controversy, it has earned a reputation for intelligence, ingenuity and audacity which is probably why it is found on almost every continent and every location.

How is the fox community organised?

Naturally a pack or hierarchical dweller, foxes hunt individually or occasionally in pairs. It is a highly sophisticated and adaptable killer with highly developed sensory apparatus. Any fox community can be divided into those who have and those who have not. The former live in clearly defined ranges, shaped by food available and the latter are forced to move to survive. The fox community is very adaptable and will expand or contract as a result of shifts in food availability, competition and shelter. Resilient to control, foxes are considered to be a pest and an urban asset in equal proportion. A single fox family is not a simple unit: it may retain one or more adult vixens that do not breed but help other family members to rear their young. The number of barren vixens is dependent on how persecuted the community is and illustrates how the fox is capable of responding to control programmes. Adult males of any family are generally territorial but as autumn progresses some of them disperse in search of new breeding grounds. Fox social life is complex and not totally understood but is dynamic to help it cope with rapidly changing environments. Nationally, urban fox numbers are not on the increase and locally the fox population would appear to be expanding into new areas to live.

What is the fox's life cycle?

The red fox (vulpes vulpes) is a member of the dog family, canidae, whose animal empire includes the wolf, jackal, coyote, dingo and a host of less familiar species. Its evolution is quite distinct and can be traced to the grassland of North America of nearly 50 million years ago. It has spread, in one form or another, to almost every corner of the globe. Its life cycle begins in January with its mating season. At this time complaints from its screaming at night reaches a peak. Cubs are born in March and by April the first ones emerge. By August, they are able to forage for themselves and by the end of September they have become adult. In November and December there are increases in fox fighting and defending of territory as the next mating season approaches. An adult fox weighs around 12-14 pounds, a little heavier than an average cat but because of its bushy tail has a much larger appearance. The male tail is an average 42 inches long with the vixen at around 40 inches. It can be identified from its unusual foot prints: the fore feet have five toes and the rear four. Although pure white and pure black wild foxes have been encountered, they are very much the exception, with the yellow-orange or rusty brown body and belly fur from white to dark grey being more common. With high urban mortality rates (the car is the biggest killer), the city fox has a life expectancy rarely exceeding for years, with 15 months being typical. In rural areas this can extend to nine years and in captivity to 14 years.

Do foxes harbour rabies?

No. Rabies has not been found in the UK for some time. However, if rabies comes here, local authorities have emergency plans which include the rural and urban fox.

Are foxes a hazard to pets?

Foxes do not attack dogs because they are simply too large and aggressive. Attacks on cats are not unknown but are rare. Typical cat/fox encounters are characterised by mutual fear and respect. Foxes do attack pet rabbits and guinea pigs so you should make every effort to protect them with weld mesh and sturdy hutch construction. Foxes do not mate with either cats or dogs as both are biologically different.

Do foxes attack people?

Attacks are very rare and are normally the result of provocation or cornering. Whilst some urban foxes seem to be fearless of man, the first instinct on coming into close contact with a human is to escape.

Are foxes a health hazard?

We receive a significant number of enquiries about foxes and bad habits. Complaints are mainly centred on their nocturnal screaming, digging of flower beds and lawns, overturning and rifling of dustbins, smell from their excreta and their effect on family pets. Undoubtedly, if you do have a large number of unwanted visits to your garden or home they can be a nuisance, but this must be put into context. A recent survey in Bristol showed that only 2.7% of households had their dustbins rifled. Indeed, many complaints about foxes are the work of cats, squirrels, badgers, birds and dogs, but foxes often get the blame. However, foxes are associated with more serious problems which you should guard against. Any wild animal is likely to be a harbour for parasites and the fox is no exception. Foxes can suffer from mange which can be transmitted to domestic dogs and causes scabies in man. Toxicaris canis, the lungworm of the dog, also resides in the fox. This parasite, which can be found in both dog and fox faeces, has been associated with blindness in children who inadvertently contaminate themselves. There have been no documented cases of blindness attributable to the fox and generally they are clean animals. Foxes also do some good. They keep more harmful creatures such as rats and mice under control as well as garden pests such as craneflies, slugs and caterpillars. The role of foxes in pest and vermin control is often understated and fox control may in turn create problems and not reduce them.

Deterring foxes from your garden

You can take a number of practical steps to deter a fox from coming onto your property. Although the urban fox is a very intelligent animal, like all wild animals it needs food and shelter so remove them from your garden by filling voids beneath garden sheds or tidying up overgrown areas. Place refuse in sturdy dustbins with secure or strapped lids and not in exposed bin liners. Place food left for birds well above ground level. Protect pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs to make your garden less welcoming. Enclose all openings in cages by weld mesh not chicken wire as that is inadequate. Earthworms and other insects are an important food source for the fox so remove them from lawns with pesticides. Please remember that earthworms benefit gardens and in some areas are under threat from predators. Although not developed with the urban fox in mind, there are a number of chemical animal deterrents which may be useful. Available from most garden centres, they can be used in exposed areas and are repulsive to the fox. Commercially, foxes can be deterred by use of flashing lights and low current electric fences. These methods can be used domestically if foxes are causing a persistent problem, but only with the benefit of professional advice.

Can you feed foxes

In large cities more than 60% of a fox's diet is made up of handouts from suburban residents. Many people derive a great deal of pleasure watching the nocturnal habits of this urban character and regularly leave out cheese, chicken carcases, fat scraps and other kitchen waste. However, it is a common misconception that urban foxes must be supported in this way: There is no evidence to suggest that even in winter, foxes would starve if it were not for these handouts. They are biologically programmed to live off live game and will only use food left out for them as a 'top-up' to their diets. There are also pitfalls in this pastime: not everyone shares a fascination for foxes and the appearance of one can cause distress to some people. Excessive or irresponsible feeding may attract large numbers of foxes and other scavengers, creating an unnecessary nuisance to neighbours and local residents. It is not a good idea to leave food for both birds and foxes as it makes birds more vulnerable to attack. Urban foxes are generally used to humans and can learn to take food from people's hands and even to go into homes. It is often a temptation to try to tame a fox or make it a pet: foxes do not make good pets, even when reared in captivity, and if they become too used to us, they can lose their ability to cope with dangers posed by their environment. While appropriate feeding can benefit an individual and animal, avoid making a fox tame or bold.

What is the fox control policy in the Borough?

We have no active control policy for urban foxes. Local Authorities are very often placed in a sensitive position, having to balance the conflicting attitudes of residents. On one hand, people generally like living in partnership with wildlife; on the other householders who suffer from severe fox problems vociferously call for their control. There is no legal requirement for local councils to reduce fox numbers, primarily because they do not represent a substantial threat to human health. By and large, we are concerned with fox management and advice rather than control. Intervention in the form of culling or transplanting is not feasible or cost effective. The total number of foxes in any area at any given time is limited by harbourage availability, food supply and competition. The reproductive capacity and resilience of the fox community is more than able to counteract any concerted eradication programme. With mortality rates commonly at 50% and itinerant movement, control would result in a temporary reduction in numbers and would be followed by a restocking to original levels. Control is expensive both in terms of equipment and officer time and is almost certainly ineffectual in the long run.

What can individuals do to remove unwanted foxes?

If deterrence and prevention do not solve or improve your problem there are other ways to remove foxes from your property. In addition to being humane, any control method must be legal, practical, effective and safe. These methods are not acceptable:

The fox's reputation for cunning is well founded and it is not easily trapped. Naturally cautious, the fox will evade capture for some time and if it is eventually captured it will serve as an example to the remainder of its pack and subsequent captures will be very unlikely. The captured fox must either be humanely dispatched or released into an area which is more suitable. Again, cats and dogs may be caught and distressed by mistake.

Trapping of foxes and "returning" them to the wild is often viewed as a humane method of reducing the fox population. In reality, this option is the least practical, as trapping is far from straightforward and release into the wild may well be illegal because of the distress caused to the animal (Abandonment of Animals Act 195). Life expectancies of transferred foxes are substantially reduced as they are susceptible to rural danger and may transfer disease to the resident fox population. This option does not take into account the ability of the site to cope with an influx of urban foxes and only shifts the problem onto someone who may not be in any better position to deal with it. Fox control is expensive and time consuming and culling is only effective in the short term.

Further Information

You can get more information from The Fox Project External Hyperlink or by contacting us on 01329 236100 or e-mail regulatory@fareham.gov.uk



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Fareham Borough Council, Civic Offices, Civic Way, Hampshire, PO16 7AZ
Tel: +44 (0) 1329 236100 | Mobile Text/Photo: 07876 131415 | Fax: +44 (0) 1329 821770
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