Are Urban Foxes Really on the Rise?
Watching four foxes in a neighbours back yard devour a possum and you tend to ask if there is a problem? Seven moved in under a shed and leave fried chicken bones all over the back yard each morning.
Foxes are back in the headlines as Theresa May looks to repeal the hunting ban but Londoners are more concerned about them being pests than prey. Studies suggest that urban fox numbers have more than quadrupled over the past 20 years but is this really the case? And how can we combat these often unwelcome city scavengers?
Fox Facts and Fiction!
The only difference between urban foxes and rural ones is their choice of address. Biologically they’re the same animal but rural foxes are clearly having a harder time than their city cousins, who first began to be reported in southern towns in the 1930s.
Studies on these animals aren’t common – the last major research took place in 2014 with findings published last year. They rely on sightings of the animal so their numbers can be difficult to properly gauge. What we do know is that while urban fox numbers have risen, the number of rural foxes has plummeted so sharply that the overall UK fox population has drastically dropped.
Foxes are self-regulating so their population should stay roughly the same. One of the reasons fox hunting and culling doesn’t work is that as soon as numbers drop, more female foxes become fertile to get their numbers back up.
Kill 1000 foxes and their reproduction rates will rise to fill the gap. If there’s a healthy population, fewer females mate. Nature tends to work like this until humans intervene, which may be why overall fox numbers are dropping.
Changes to farming techniques have altered the habitat of both the fox and its prey. There’s been a significant drop in the rabbit population and pesticides have reduced the number of earthworms, which are an important food source for young foxes.
necdotal evidence suggests farmers and gamekeepers nowadays feel obliged to cull more foxes found on their land in light of the hunting ban.
These rural habitat problems mean that while the fox population is not growing it is being redistributed. More foxes are making their way into cities. Or rather, into some cities. New Scientist reported in January that cities in the north of the UK have seen more foxes but numbers seem to be static in London and other southern cities.
The urban fox population has risen from an estimated 33,000 in the 1990s to 150,000 because foxes have appeared in new areas, or multiplied in low-density towns in the north.
The Foxes of London!
Our fox population helps to keep London’s rats under control but they can be a pain when it comes making a mess. They rifle bins, scatter rubbish and crap in gardens.
Faeces is a way for foxes to mark their territory. Ironically if you clean any crap away the fox is likely to come back and do it all over again. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden but unlucky enough to have fox crap problems you can try a neutraliser.
Wash & Get Off is a cleaner designed for pets that neutralises germs and odours but leaves enough scent to stop animals from marking the spot again.
Bins should be kept secured and bin bags never left outside unprotected. If you need to secure your bins with a padlock (drilling a couple of holes does the trick) don’t forget to remove it before bin collection or you’ll have bigger problems than foxes.
If you like to feed birds, make sure to use a feeder off the ground, as leaving any food out will only encourage foxes to return.
You might love these animals but remember that by feeding them you’re teaching them to be less fearful of humans. While it’s novel to have a foxy friend, others aren’t so appreciative and might not treat them so kindly.
They’re wild animals after all so the best thing to do is let them hunt – the rats might not thank you but Londoners will.
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