Urban foxes

Foxes moved into urban areas after the First World War due to a change in people's lifestyles. The new transport systems allowed people to work in one place and to live in another, leading to the building of suburban housing in once rural areas. Rural foxes quickly urbanised, taking advantage of the food and shelter provided in the relatively large gardens, from compost heaps, bird-tables and garden buildings. Foxes are now accustomed to living near to people and successive generations have spread inwards towards the city centre. There are now more opportunities of food and shelter for foxes in towns and cities than in the surrounding countryside.

How do they live?

They live in family groups - a dog fox and vixen producing one litter of about 4 cubs a year. It is also common for one or two other vixens to help raise the family - usually either the daughters or sisters of the breeding vixen. Foxes have a territory and have a varied diet ranging from fruit to mice. On average, scavenged food forms nearly 40% of their diet, with a large amount of this deliberately put out to attract them. It is commonly, but wrongly believed that urban foxes feed largely on the contents of dustbins which they have raided - these are more often disturbed by cats and dogs.

Life expectancy and population trends

The number of urban foxes remains about the same despite approximately 60% of the population dying in a year. Nearly half of these deaths are due to car accidents.

Noise and smells

Between December and February you may hear the most unearthly screaming sounds late at night. This is sometimes called the "vixen's scream" and is thought to be the sound made by the female fox to show she is ready to mate. As well as barking and screaming, foxes communicate with each other using scents. They produce strong smelling urine and faeces to mark their territories. You may find that a fox is visiting your garden when you smell these markers. If your garden is very important for a fox, it is likely to mark the area with strong smells very regularly.

Do they eat pets?

It is extremely rare for a fox to attack a cat. Most of the time they simply ignore each other. Foxes are actually quite small and they pose no threat to dogs. Foxes' natural prey includes small birds and mammals and they will eat pet rabbits, guinea pigs or chickens if they are given the chance so make sure they are kept in secure hutches or enclosures. It is also essential to prevent a fox from digging its way into the enclosure and a simple way of doing this is to lay chicken wire underneath the enclosure.

Where do they live?

Foxes spend much of their time resting in an "earth". In the urban environment earths are usually created under sheds, in cellars or any other quiet place. If you have foxes using your shed or cellar as an earth, you must be very careful if you want to deter them. This is because you could disturb the young foxes that may be living there. It is probably safer to attempt this between September and December outside the breeding season.

Control of foxes

If you really don't want foxes in your garden then dog or cat chemical repellents are the most efficient deterrent. Another way is to remove the reason why they are visiting. This could be food left on a compost heap, in a plastic refuse sack, or food for birds placed directly on the ground; or a favourite hiding place under a shed.

It is important that foxes do not become dependent on people providing them with food as they will lose their natural fear of humans and as a consequence come in to close contact with people who are frightened by them. Tame foxes are more likely to enter homes through a cat flap or open door.

We do not have a policy of controlling or culling foxes and you should seek the services of a pest control contractor if you wish to eradicate a fox from your garden.