Red Fox

I have been watching BBC's Springwatch over the last couple of weeks and was interested to see the fox family with eleven cubs living in an urban garden. It turned out they were the young of two vixens who lived together in the same earth and shared the feeding. To help the foxes the owners of the garden also put out food ensuring the cubs were well fed. With this approach it is hardly surprising that the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) have been so successful living alongside us. Nurturing this synurbic relationship (synurbian animals are animals that as a result of living closely with humans actually do better than those same animals would do in the wild) does seem to divide opinion along the lines of a love them, or hate them.

01D-5789 Red Fox Vulpes vulpes
Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) a beautiful animal. Copyright David Forster

Without a doubt there are those who are affected by these animals in a negative way be it economically when animals such as chickens or pheasants are taken, or as an inconvenience when they dig up lawns, leave smelly scat just where you don't want it, or more seriously though thankfully extremely rarely harm us physically.

The debate since the well publicised (some would say near hysterical) coverage by a significant proportion of the popular media regarding the alleged mauling of two children in 2010 has meant foxes have been in the spotlight a great deal.

This attack increased calls for a major cull and has even led to calls for the fox hunting act to be repealed, although doing so would not make the slightest difference to the fox population in our urban areas. Just because the killing of foxes using dogs as a part of a horse based pursuit has been banned it does not mean foxes in the countryside are no longer killed. On the contrary nothing at all has changed here and foxes just as they were before the ban are still regularly killed using trapping and shooting. The linking therefore of the increase in urban foxes with the foxhunting ban is completely inaccurate.

11-0353 Red Fox Vulpes Vulpes Eating Bread Left in a Picnic Area. It is NOT showing Aggression.
This fox is eating bread discarded on the ground in a picnic area. Despite how it appears it is not showing aggression. Copyright David Forster

As well as such misinformation there are also several inaccurate myths surrounding the Fox. For example some people think that the urban fox is a bigger subspecies of the red fox. It isn't - an urban fox is simply a red fox that shares our urban habitat - or perhaps just as accurately we share their habitat?

Another relates to the countryside and is that farmers don't like foxes because they kill their chickens and take lambs. I have to be honest here and admit that at one time I had a similar perception however my experiences in dealing with farmers over a number of years has made me question this assumption.

A good example of this was when I was given permission by a landowner to carry out some photography at a badger set he had bordering his land. The area of the set was not a particularly good location for photographs as a fence ran next to it which spoiled the background of the photos. It was however a great spot to watch the badgers, one of which passed so close to us it would have been possible to reach out and touch it. On another occasion we were surprised to see a fox with a rabbit in its mouth trotting past us no more than 5 feet away. We then heard the sound of exited fox cubs at the far side of the set and realised the fox was actually living alongside the badgers.

Fast forward the better part of a year and I happened to be chatting to a neighbouring farmer and mentioned I had seen a fox in the field next door. Their reaction was not quite what I expected. Firstly there was a look or horror, followed by, "oh heck it will take our lambs we will have to get rid". It seemed completely lost on them that the fox we had seen had been living there all through the spring and summer and possibly living in the area a lot longer than that and they had not lost any animals. Fortunately I did not mention I actually knew where it had its den. Nor did I mention that I regularly see fox scat while out and about.

07-3970a Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) in Autumn Woodland UK
In the countryside the fox is mainly nocturnal and as a result is seen less often. Copyright David Forster

This discussion does perhaps suggest that for some people the fox is more of a perceived threat to their lambs rather than a real one. This notion was reinforced few weeks later when I had conversation with the farmer with land on the other side who often stops for a chat about what I have seen wildlife wise. Expecting a similar attitude I cautiously mentioned a fox sighting a while back but his opinion on foxes was the complete opposite and he was very quick to say that he has never had a problem with foxes and enjoyed the few rare sighting he had.

While I am certainly not suggesting foxes don't predate farm animals, or indeed other animals such as pheasants and grouse raised for shooting - or for that matter even the odd pet, such experience does perhaps reinforce the fact that significant domestic predation may well be perceived rather than real. There is certainly some study evidence to support this notion (see further information below).

Food for thought

· It is estimated that as many as 100,000 foxes are killed on our roads each year.

· There is no evidence to suggest that urban areas now hold more foxes than the countryside. It is estimated that only 13% of the British fox population actually lives in urban areas, although in some urban locations the density of foxes per acre is higher than the countryside.

Further Online Information

PDF Information Red Fox in Bristol

A Study of Gamebird Predation by the Red Fox

A Study of Lamb Predation by the Red Fox

Images and text Copyright David Forster