Feb 11 2013

Urban Foxes – Information from Harrow Council

Red Fox in Surrey, South East EnglandFoxes are a common sight in urban areas today and it is accepted that some people love them whilst others hate them. They are part of the natural wildlife and foxes are opportunists that have adapted perfectly to urban and suburban environments. Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) are members of the dog family (Canidae) and resemble a small dog in appearance with reddish fur and a bushy tail (or brush) which has a white tip. They are lighter footed than a dog of the same size and their gait resembles that of a cat. Foxes are omnivores that will eat practically anything. Their diet includes worms, beetles, berries, carrion, small rodents, rabbits and birds. Although an efficient predator, foxes are basically lazy and will not bother trying to catch elusive prey when scavenging produces an easier meal e.g. from dustbins or other food put out by residents.

Concern is often expressed over the number of foxes present in an area, however the population, like that of all carnivores, is self regulating and limited by the amount of food and territory available. Cubs born simply replace the number of adults lost since the previous breeding season. Foxes are loners, not pack animals, and the family usually disperses by late autumn.

Foxes mate during January and February. Complaints often occur at this time because of the screaming and barking noises that they make. Four or five cubs are generally born to the vixen (female fox) in March or April and the cubs normally stay with the vixen for 3 or 4 months. It is often around these times that more activity is noted.

A common disease that foxes suffer from, particularly when urban fox populations are high, is Mange. This is a skin disease caused by mites (Sarcoptes scabiei var. canis) which although in theory can be transmitted to humans, is more associated with people who handle foxes.

Foxes do not generally attack humans, but if it is cornered or surprised, then they may bite in self-defence. Although foxes will take livestock such as chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs if they are not properly secured, they are unlikely to threaten cats, dogs or adult humans, all of which are generally more than a match for an adult fox. The fact that foxes often appear not to fear humans has more to do with familiarity and also the fact they know how slowly humans can move, and how fast they can move if they have to.

The fox is sometimes referred to as vermin, but it is not and never has been categorised as such by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Foxes are in fact protected under a series of wildlife protection laws against poisoning, gassing, asphyxiating, maiming, stabbing, impaling, drowning, clubbing and most forms of snaring, with anyone carrying out such acts subject to 6 months imprisonment and/or £5,000 fine per animal, e.g. Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996.

Harrow Council does not deal with nor control foxes. Responsibility for dealing with foxes lies with the landowner and householders are strongly advised to contact a professional pest control company if they wish to implement some form of control.

Controlling urban foxes can be difficult and expensive and is never usually successful because the moment you increase the mortality rate, foxes will compensate by increasing the number of vixens that breed. The number of foxes in an area therefore does not reduce, but what you do achieve is a disruption in the fox population, so that new foxes move in to try and take over the vacant territory, which in turn causes more nuisances.

There are a number of commercial animal repellents available, but only those approved for use against foxes under the Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986 may be used and the manufacturer’s instructions must be followed (see further advice below).

Baited cage traps can be used successfully in urban areas but captured foxes have to be humanely killed by shooting or by a vet. It is considered unlawful under animal welfare legislation to release a trapped fox in unfamiliar surroundings outside its home range. The most humane and natural way to control the fox population and restrict their numbers is to limit their food supply. The less food there is for them to eat – the fewer foxes there will be.

Foxes can also be controlled by basic housekeeping by residents such as:

  • Maintaining and cutting back overgrowth
  • Storing household refuse in a container e.g. wheelie bin and not leave food waste in bin liners as foxes will rip the bag open to get at any food waste.
  • Not feeding foxes. Leaving food out for them in back gardens can lead to foxes regarding your home as part of their territory. A fox that is used to being fed may approach people or even try to enter their house to find food. Also, leaving food out for foxes may also encourage other wildlife e.g. squirrels and rats.
  • House domestic pets and poultry in fox-proof accommodation and refrain from feeding household pets in the garden.
  • Not feeding birds by tipping food waste in the garden and use propriety bird feeders.

For further advice, please contact: 020 8901 2600 or email e-mail: ehealth@harrow.gov.uk

Fox Deterrence Helpline: 01892 514863

National Fox Welfare Society: 01933 411996 (www.nfws.org.uk)

Source: Harrow Council

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