Recent media coverage of an alleged fox attack on a young child
may have increased public concern about the danger posed by
foxes. Public opinion of foxes varies widely, with
some wanting them destroyed, while others are happy to
tolerate them and some actively encourage them. Some people
believe the fox population is increasing, but this is not the case.
Fox populations are relatively stable and self regulating according
to the availability of habitat and food. Foxes are classed as
wild animals, not pests, and the Council has no statutory
powers or legal rights to eradicate foxes on private or other
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Nuisance and risk
Clearly, foxes can be a nuisance at times, particularly during
the mating season when their eerie screams can be heard at night or
when male foxes (dogs) fight with each other over territory or a
female fox (vixen). The problem of fox noise is seasonal and lasts
for just a couple of weeks.
Foxes will sometimes tear rubbish sacks apart and leave the
contents strewn all over the street. However, other animals,
including pet cats and dogs, can be responsible for doing that
Risks to humans and pets
In the past few years there have been some reports of attacks on
children. Thankfully these are extremely rare.
Statistically, the risk that foxes pose is very small indeed.
The risk from dangerous dogs is far greater.
Foxes pose little danger to cats. But, like any other dog,
foxes will chase cats. Generally, though, when faced with the claws
and teeth of a cat, foxes will back away, knowing they will
probably suffer a serious injury in any fight. However, foxes will
scavenge the remains of dead cats, but actual evidence of them
killing cats is extremely rare. Cats and dogs vastly outnumber
foxes and they usually co-exist without any serious problems. But,
many fox cubs are killed each year by pet cats and dogs.
However, small pets, like rabbits and guinea pigs can be taken
by foxes. They need to be securely housed to ensure foxes cannot
get access to them. Most wire pens are not robust enough to deter a
determined fox. Foxes also eat rats and other rodents and can thus
help to keep those pests down.
The following information is provided to help people who may be
experiencing problems with foxes. It will become apparent that real
control is in the hands of the public. However, the Council will do
all that it can to offer practical advice and information about
foxes and how we can make our homes and the streets less attractive
It is the abundance of food and shelter and almost a complete
absence of predators that has enabled the fox to thrive in inner
cities. Like any other mammailian pest species, the answer to
controlling them comes down to just two practical measures, denying
them a regular source of food and also shelter. Therefore, if
we, as a community, reduce the availability of food and places to
shelter, fox numbers will reduce, as will the number of rats, feral
pigeons and seagulls.
The most effective method of fox control in urban areas is the
motor vehicle. Almost 50 per cent of UK foxes are killed on the
Some people think the Council should start culling foxes, but
such a measure is not only extremely expensive, potentially
dangerous and very unlikely to succeed. There was a
nationwide program to cull foxes that ran for more than 30 years,
but fox numbers did not noticeably decline.
Legally, there are only two methods that can be used to dispose
- Cage trapping, in combination with the administering of a
The first option is far too dangerous to be used in urban
areas. We do not want to encourage people to walk around our
streets, gardens and parks carrying and discharging firearms.
The second option is just too expensive. The costs
of trapping and giving a fox a lethal injection is in excess
of £500 per fox. In addition, only a vet can administer a lethal
injection and most vets are unwilling to put down any healthy
In any event, newly-vacated territory is quickly occupied
by other foxes, often within days. Moreover, killing simply brings
about less competition for food and territory and the mortality
rate for the remaining foxes will decline.
Some pest control companies will kill foxes. If you
decide to employ someone to kill a fox on your property you need to
understand that you will be responsible for the costs of killing
and disposing of the animal (which can be considerable). And, as
just explained, the territory of a culled fox will be quickly
re-occupied by another fox.
The public seem to be equally divided about foxes, with as many
people calling for their protection as call for them to be
eradicated. What many people fail to understand is that it is our
lifestyle which is one of the key things that attract them into the
city. The abundance of food and shelter to be found here, combined
with an absence of predators means that foxes are able to thrive in
the inner cities.
What can members of the public do about foxes?
As well as denying foxes a source of food or shelter, there
are a few other steps you can take to deal with a fox that has
taken up residence in your garden:
- you can use an appropriate animal repellent to discourage the
animal (for example a non toxic chemical such as Scoot, Stay Off,
Get Off My Garden or Wash Off and Get Off)
Always read the manufacturer's label and follow their
instructions before using.
Success with repellents requires persistence. Foxes will not
vacate their territory easily. Problems with scent marking and
faeces may get worse before they get better. Foxes will increase
their scent marking if their territory is threatened. Successfully
deterring foxes will require constant re-application of the
repellent, often for weeks, before the foxes give up and move
Do not be tempted to try to poison foxes as such action puts
other animals (pets, wild birds etc) and humans at risk. People who
do use poisons illegally can face substantial fines and / or a
prison sentence. If you need practical help with foxes you should
contact a pest control professional for advice. The British Pest Control Association
website is useful for finding a suitable pest control
professional. Remember, only trained pest control professionals can
kill or trap foxes.
As mentioned above, foxes do not, generally, attack humans.
However, if you are concerned about leaving young children or
babies sleeping or playing inside a room, because foxes have been
seen in your area or the street, there are a few common-sense
precautions you might take to allay any concerns you have:
- do not leave ground-floor windows or those immediately above a
flat roof wide open. Leaving the windows open just two to
three inches will ensure a fox is not able to gain access.
- do not leave French windows or external ground-floor doors
open, especially after dark
- do not make your home or garden attractive to foxes. Store
household refuse in metal bins, with secure tops.
- do not leave pet-food out in the garden or on a balcony
- never leave household refuse out on the street or in a side-way
overnight. Only put your refuse out on the right collection
- if foxes are continually disturbing your sleep it is possible
to deter them by switching on an external light, making a sudden
and loud noise (be wary of disturbing your neighbours) or shining a
powerful torch beam at them
- never be tempted to use rags soaked in creosote or petrol. Such
methods are potentially dangerous and are illegal
- clear overgrown gardens which could provide resting areas, and
make sure there is no food available on compost heaps
- don’t use fertilisers containing blood, fish and bone meal as
they will attract foxes
- if you have foxes living in your garden you can use an animal
repellent as mentioned above
- if you have a den in your garden or on your land you can block
the entrance, but you should only ever use soft soil whilst there
are cubs around. You must be sure the den is completely vacated
before blocking it with rubble or cement
- consider extending your fence (above and below ground) -
before you do, please consult the Planning Department to ensure any
chances meet with their approval.
You should not trap foxes inside their den. It is cruel and
illegal to do so. Nor should you be tempted to lay poison or put
out poisoned food for foxes. To do so puts other people and
wildlife at risk. Moreover, the penalties for doing so are
considerable and those who do flout the law risk heavy fines and
- foxes are mainly nocturnal mammals and spend the hours of
darkness hunting for, and scavenging, food
- foxes can live for about 12 to 15 years, but life expectancy in
urban areas is much shorter and most foxes survive for about two to
- up to 50 per cent of the UK’s fox population is killed on
- up to 80 per cent of fox cubs die before reaching sexual
maturity and consequently, never breed
- urban foxes live off of a diet of food scavenged from refuse
bags left out on the street, badly-cleaned or easily accessed
refuse storage areas, carelessly discarded fast-food, berries,
plant bulbs, worms, garden insects, birds and other small mammals,
including rats and mice
- foxes generally avoid contact with dogs and cats
- foxes can carry the same diseases as domestic dogs
There has been a rapid spread of foxes into urban areas during
the past 100 years, particularly in the south of England, where
cities, like London, have encroached into more rural areas. Foxes
prefer suburban areas, with large gardens where they can find
shelter beneath shrubbery, sheds, and in other quiet areas, for
example, alongside railway tracks or in parks and other open
spaces. Foxes excavate burrows, known as earths or dens, in those
areas, particularly where there is dense vegetation.
Indications that a den is occupied are:
- remnants of food and the presence of fox faeces near the
well worn paths to the entrance, which are about 25 cm
an unpleasant musty smell around the entrance
Foxes breed just once a year. The mating season begins in
January when the screeching mating cries can be heard during the
night and the early hours. A litter of four to five cubs is born
about late March, and the cubs remain exclusively inside the den
for about six to eight weeks.
Dens become abandoned by June or July, when the cubs will begin
to learn how to forage for food. By September, the cubs will be
just about fully grown, and in late October the cubs leave the
family, to set up their own territory, often nearby.
Foxes are omnivorous; their usual diet is birds, worms,
small mammals, insects, fruit and household refuse, when they can
get it. In city areas, discarded food (take-away food, household
rubbish and pet food left out overnight) can make up more than half
of a fox’s daily diet.