Types of pest
Local authorities do not trap or destroy foxes. This is because direct control is not effective. Research has shown that trapping and killing foxes (or relocating them to rural areas) has little, if any, effect in reducing their numbers. When a fox is removed another fox will quickly take over the vacant territory.
Foxes have become more common in some London boroughs than in the surrounding countryside because they are very adaptable and eat many types of food. Much of the food they eat in London is scavenged off the city streets or from under bird tables.
Why we should share our environment with foxes
- foxes are well adapted to both rural and urban life and for many years have successfully lived side by side with people in towns and cities
- many people enjoy a rare glimpse of a 'wild animal' in their neighbourhood
- as they do not pose a direct threat to public health, the council does not consider foxes to be pests. However, it does accept that they can sometimes cause problems
Where foxes live
By day foxes usually shelter in their earths or dens. Ealing has some natural fox habitats such as parks, cemeteries and railway embankments. Foxes are territorial creatures and the availability of habitat and food will tend to control their population naturally. In London, fox earths can be found under sheds, in cellars or in any other quiet place.
As they mature, foxes will try to acquire their own territory and may establish earths in parks and domestic gardens.
What they eat
The urban fox's diet consists mainly of food scavenged from the streets and gardens. They also eat fruit, worms, insects and small animals, some of which are pests (for example, rats, mice and pigeons). Generally, they do not pose a threat to domestic cats and dogs but, being opportunists, will take smaller pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs if they are left unguarded.
Problems foxes can cause
Surveys indicate that foxes only rarely cause a significant nuisance. The council receives very few complaints about foxes, the most common relate to:
- emptying the contents of dustbins or tearing refuse sacks. Foxes are often blamed for this, however, cats, rats, crows and dogs can be the culprits. The easiest way to solve this is to make sure you have a dustbin that can be securely closed
- disturbance at night by calling and barking. Between December and February female foxes (vixens) make a screaming sound at night to show they are ready to mate. If the noise becomes intolerable, you can move the foxes on by using a strong smelling repellent such as the types you can buy to deter cats
- holes and droppings/scents in the garden. As well as barking and screaming, foxes communicate with each other using scents. They use strong smelling urine or faeces to mark their territories. If your garden is important for a fox, it is likely to mark the area with strong smells very regularly. To deter them from visiting, remove the reason for their visit. This could be food left on a compost heap or under a bird table, or a favourite hiding place, such as under a shed
- threats to smaller household pets. Foxes pose no threat to dogs and will rarely attack a cat. However, foxes' natural prey includes small birds and mammals, so they may attack pet rabbits, guinea pigs or chickens given the chance. The best way to protect those pets is to make sure they are kept in secure hutches or enclosures. A simple way of doing this is to lay chicken wire underneath the enclosure
- stealing and gnawing shoes and toys left lying in gardens. Make sure you keep your shoes and toys indoors
Do foxes spread disease?
- foxes in Britain are very unlikely to spread disease to humans or pets
- occasionally they are affected by mange a condition that causes loss of fur and skin lesions. This is potentially transmissible to dogs but there is very little evidence of this actually happening and it is easily treated
- as predators and scavengers, foxes are frequently exposed to infestations of parasitic gut worms including trichinella and toxocara, both of which can affect people. However, there is no evidence of foxes passing these diseases to humans or pets
- a major fear people have concerns rabies, which is potentially fatal to man and animals. However, Britain has been completely free of rabies for many years and it is declining elsewhere in Western Europe
How to deter urban foxes
- firstly, make sure it really is a fox problem that is bothering you. Urban foxes are often blamed for problems caused by other animals (for example, dogs overturning dustbins, cats and squirrels ripping open refuse bags)
- if you have identified foxes in your garden, remove all likely sources of food. If possible, ensure that domestic waste is kept in suitable bins with closely fitting lids
- where possible, we suggest that you put out your rubbish early on the morning of your collection day (before 7am) to avoid foxes or other animals ripping open your rubbish sack
- if you have an earth in your garden and you want to prevent foxes using it, daub the entrance with a commercial repellent and once the earth has been vacated, block the entrance with soil or rubble
- if foxes are using your garden as a travel route, you can dissuade them by spreading repellent at points of access. If there are obvious breaks in fencing these should be repaired. Higher or stronger fencing should also be considered
In extreme circumstances, residents may wish to employ the services of a private pest control company. However, you should carefully consider whether this is the most effective way of dealing with the problem. Private contractors are expensive and there is little evidence that killing or removing a fox will prevent the problem from recurring. Other foxes are very likely to take the place of the animal that has been removed.
For a list of approved pest controllers visit the British Pest Control Assocation website.
Alternatively contact the following agencies:
The Fox Project
The Southborough Centre, Draper Street, Southborough, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN4 0PG
Tel: 0906 272 4411
Wilberforce Way, Southwater, Horsham, West Sussex RH13 9RS
Tel: 0870 333 5999
National Fox Welfare Society
32 Bradfield Close, Rushden NN10 0EP
Tel: 01933 411996