A Fox in the Garden

On Saturday afternoon I noticed an urban fox having a snooze in the garden behind our house. Naturally, I got my camera out and took a few snaps before it finally disappeared, having been disturbed by the kids playing in the community centre next door. You can view a few of the photos in the gallery above.

I love seeing foxes around where I live in South London, and tend to see at least one every time I come home late. They’re very confident, sticking around to watch me walk past, sometimes sitting down for a quick one-way chat – you rarely get more than a stare from a fox.

During last year’s month of heavy snowfall I even had the privilege of playing a game of snowball-catch with one fox before I accidentally hit her square in the face, prematurely ending the game.

>The Guardian – Urban foxes: the facts and the fiction >Urban Foxes – Council Pest Control Fact-file

Urban foxes get quite a bit of bad press, such as the child-biting incident a few years ago and the usual bin-rummaging, garden-wrecking, night-time-screaming, cat-killing complaints, but I’m firmly in the Chris Packham-led pro-fox camp.

Do foxes attack children?

The chances of you getting attacked by a fox is incredibly rare and your child is much more likely to receive a bite from your own dog or cat. The chances of hospitalisation are also much higher with respect to domestic dog attacks. As incidents of fox attacks are all hysterically reported on they probably seem much more common that they actually are.

Are they filthy vermin that cause a mess?

If we stopped throwing our rubbish on to our streets and made sure that our rubbish was securely put away we wouldn’t see as much foxy disturbance. Removing this scavengable food source would also restrict urban fox populations by limiting their reproductive success.

Do they kill cats?

Despite an apparent increase in the number of anecdotal reports of foxes attacking cats it is still hotly debated as an “urban myth”. Foxes probably do attack cats, although this is likely in very low numbers and probably more due to an increase in encounters rather than foxes actively hunting. With around 10,000 urban foxes and over 750,000 cats crammed into London disagreements that lead to injuries are unavoidable – and, knowing cats, battle wounds are likely sustained on both sides!

Claiming that foxes have moved on to pets because of the introduction of wheelie bins, which limit their access to rubbish, seems far-fetched. If foxes were actually under pressure to find alternative sources of food, such as by attacking cats, it wouldn’t be long till we see a drop in their population due to the pressures of food availability. We certainly haven’t seen that since the introduction of wheelie bins so it seems an unlikely behavioural change.

Another domestic animal to fall foul of the fox are chickens, although I have less sympathy. If you want to keep chickens, it’s your responsibility to make their enclosures as secure as possible.

Couldn’t we just cull them and reduce conflict?

Previous attempts at culling foxes in London didn’t work and those knowledgeable friends and foes of the urban fox tend to agree that it would be a waste of time and money. We don’t want another situation, like with the badger cull, where we are slaughtering animals because of political pressure from single-minded groups with no foresight.

Get on side

It seems odd to me how conditioned we are to accept the presence of foxes in our cities. I feel a genuine rush every time I see one skulking around in the dark – never mind having a kip in broad daylight.

Perhaps if we contemplated their canine link to wolves rather than consider them on a similar level as grey squirrels and pigeons we might all feel the same rush when we spot one.

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