Fox

Fox Control and Urban Foxes

The adaptable nature of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) has made it a very successful resident of many British towns. Although many people enjoy seeing foxes around their homes or in parkland, foxes can be a nuisance and sometimes cause damage. Foxes are not a protected species as such, but they are protected against abuse and ill-treatment.

Most fox control technicians can offer trapping programs to remove foxes.

Traps are set in areas of activity and sometimes can be checked by yourselves (under a signed indemnity) or a Pest Control technician. (Traps must be inspected every 12 hours)

Only fully licensed marksmen should carry out a cull.
Culls should only take place once permission has be received from the local police.
All carcasses should be removed and disposed of in the correct fashion in accordance to local authority.

Biology and behaviour

Foxes eat a wide range of foodstuffs, their diet includes small mammals, birds (including eggs), reptiles, insects, earthworms, fruit, vegetables and carrion. In urban areas, about a third of their diet is scavenged waste or food deliberately provided by householders. Foxes readily store their food, usually by burying it in the ground. Foxes are predominantly nocturnal, but in urban areas the sight of a fox active during the day is not unusual.

Foxes usually shelter and breed below ground, in an ‘earth’ or ‘den’. They prefer well-drained soil and sometimes use burrows made by rabbits or badgers. In urban areas, they also live underneath sheds and outbuildings, even under the floorboards of houses.

Foxes breed once a year, with cubs being born during March and April. The average litter size is 4 or 5. The cubs start venturing in the open from late April onwards, and will normally stay with the vixen until the autumn, with some remaining until January. Urban fox cubs usually disperse between 3 and 8 km (2–5 miles) of their birthplace. Foxes born in towns rarely move into rural areas. Foxes can live for over 8 years, but this is rare; the average life span of foxes in towns is only 18 months. Most urban foxes are killed on the roads.

Given the opportunity, foxes will kill small domestic pets and livestock such as rabbits, guinea pigs, ducks and chickens and have known to attack children, cats and dogs. Unlike many predators, foxes have the habit of killing more than they need to eat immediately. They may subsequently return for any uneaten corpses.

Nuisance

The digging, defecating, and bin-raiding habits of foxes can cause considerable nuisance and disturbance in urban areas. Gardens can be spoilt as foxes establish an earth, dig for invertebrates, bury food, or help themselves to fruit and vegetables. Complaints of ‘unearthly screams’ at night are also common during the mating season between December and February.

Spread of disease

Foxes can carry a range of parasites and diseases relevant to the health of domestic pets and people. Despite this, there is scant evidence that foxes are actually an important source of infection. Instead, domestic pets and particularly dogs, which are susceptible to a similar range of diseases as foxes, are probably a much more important source of infection for humans. Foxes are susceptible to sarcoptic mange. This is a skin condition caused by a mite resulting in extensive hair loss and it can be fatal. It is highly contagious among foxes, and can be passed to domestic pets such as dogs and cats, especially if they use the same areas as foxes such as holes through fences and hedges.Foxes carry a number of internal parasites. For people, the most important are probably ttre roundworrn Toxocara canis and tapeworrn Echinococcns granulosus which causes hydatid disease (the formation of fluid-filled in cysts in organs such as the liver). These parasites also occur in dogs and are transferred between hosts through the ingestion of worm eggs passed in the droppings of an infected animal. Foxes are also susceptible to Weil’s disease (Ieptospirosis), which can be passed on to other animals and humans through contact with their urine. Distemper has not been recorded in wild foxes in this country. Britain is currently rabies-free, but in countries where rabies occurs, foxes can contract and pass on the disease.

Prevention of problems

Dealing with fox problems is the responsibility of the owner or occupier of the property where the problem occurs. A realistic expectation of what can be achieved is essential when considering options to deal with a fox problem. Foxes are now established residents of many urban areas and are likely to remain so. They are attracted to gardens by the food and shelter that they offer. Furthermore, some people enjoy seeing foxes in their gardens and actively encourage them by providing food. This may cause problems and the interests of neighbours should be considered. Foxes can bite through ordinary chicken wire, welded mesh provides a much stronger alternative. Foxes climb well, have strong jaws and are powerful diggers. They can be very tenacious, especially when they have had a ‘taste’ of what is available. Do not underestimate the determination and intelligence of a fox.

Health and safety

Remove and dispose of all fox, as well as dog and cat, droppings. Fox droppings are distinguishable from those of a cat or dog by their musty odour and often twisted shape. Do not handle droppings with bare hands and ensure that children (and adults) always wash their hands after spending time in the garden. Ensure that cats and dogs are regularly wormed and are vaccinated against Weil’s disease.

Methods of fox control

Legal methods 
There are a number of methods of fox control that may legally be used. These include baited cage trapping, shooting and snaring. Fallen livestock, including dead poultry, should not be used as bait in cage traps due to the potential risk of spreading disease.

Prohibited methods
It is illegal to use self-locking snares, any bow or crossbow, any explosive other than ammunition for a firearm, or a live decoy. It is also illegal to poison foxes. No fumigant compounds are currently approved for the gassing of foxes.

The Hunting Act 2004 makes the hunting with dogs of wild mammals, including foxes, illegal. This includes deliberately using dogs to chase foxes away from gardens, allotments etc. It does not include cases where the dog chases the fox when its owner does not intend it to do so. The Act contains a few tightly drawn exemptions intended to allow certain necessary pest control activities to continue, but these are very unlikely to apply in urban areas.

Fox control in urban areas

The capture of urban foxes and their release into rural areas is not recommended on welfare grounds and this practice could be an offence under the Animal Welfare Act (2006).

If you decide to undertake fox control you are advised to employ a professional pest controller.

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