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 land.
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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 open and leave the contents strewn all over the street. However, other animals, including pet cats and dogs, can be responsible for doing that too.
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 to them.
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 mammalian 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 roads.
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 of foxes:
- Cage trapping in combination with the administering of a lethal injection.
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 animal.
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). You should 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 feces 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 on.
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 day.
- 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 possible imprisonment.
- 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 three years
- up to 50 per cent of the UK’s fox population is killed on the roads
- 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 feces near the entrance
- well worn paths to the entrance, which are about 25 cm wide
- 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.