Frequently Asked Questions
General questions about foxes in Britain's urban areas:
- Are urban fox numbers increasing?
- Are urban foxes a different species?
- Are there more foxes in urban areas than in the countryside?
- Foxes do not belong in cities: can they be returned to the countryside where they belong?
- Why did foxes colonise British cities?
- Did foxes move into British cities because they were starving?
- Are urban foxes starving?
- Are urban foxes hungrier following the introduction of wheelie bins or the new rubbish collection system?
- How many foxes are killed by cars in Britain each year?
- Should I feed the foxes in my garden?
- Why do foxes provoke such polarized opinions?
TopAre urban fox numbers increasing?
There is no evidence of any significant population change. The last national census was in the late 1980s. Since then fox numbers in many cities have been reduced by an epidemic of sarcoptic mange, whereas numbers have increased in urban areas recently colonised by foxes. Overall, numbers of urban foxes today are probably little different from what they were 20 years ago.
TopAre urban foxes a different species?
No: this is a myth. Urban foxes often move out of towns to live in nearby rural areas, and vice versa. So not only are urban and rural foxes the same species, they may well be the very same animals.
TopAre there more foxes in urban areas than in the countryside?
No: although urban fox densities are generally higher that those in rural areas, only about 13% of the British fox population lives in urban areas. People rarely see foxes in the countryside, whereas urban foxes are much less wary of people. Since foxes are seen more often in cities, this gives the impression that there are more urban than rural foxes.
TopFoxes do not belong in cities: can they be returned to the countryside where they belong?
It is a misconception that foxes do not belong in cities: they are very adaptable and colonise a wide range of habitats around the world, including cities from Australia to America. They started colonising British cities in the 1930s, and have been present in many urban areas for nearly 80 years. So they are well established urban residents and returning them to the countryside is unrealistic, since there would be no vacant territories for them to occupy. In any case, the vacant territories created in urban areas would soon be reoccupied.
TopWhy did foxes colonise British cities?
Foxes started to colonise urban areas in the 1930s when we started building low-density housing. This led to a rapid expansion of our cities; during the 1930s London increased in size four-fold. This change in housing policy saw the rise of semi-detached suburbia, where the spacious gardens provided an ideal habitat for foxes. Even today, foxes are most common in suburbs built in the inter-war years.
TopDid foxes move into British cities because they were starving?
This is a myth: low density housing built in the 1930s provided an ideal habitat for foxes, which they quickly colonised. It is often claimed that foxes invaded urban areas following the outbreak of myxomatosis in 1953, which led to the disappearance of rabbits, their main food item. This is another myth: by the mid-1950s foxes had been well established in many cities for 20 years. In fact, they were so common in south London in the 1940s that the government embarked on an unsuccessful eradication programme.
TopAre urban foxes starving?
Far from it: a recent study in Bristol, UK, estimated that each night there is a minimum of 150 times as much food available as is required by the foxes. Of course, they compete for this with badgers, hedgehogs, and some domestic pets, but there is still a considerable food surplus available to the foxes.
TopAre urban foxes hungrier following the introduction of wheelie bins or the new rubbish collection system?
This is a myth: foxes rarely scavenge from litter bins, and so the introduction of animal-proof bins or changes to the rubbish collection system has no significant impact on the local foxes.
TopHow many foxes are killed by cars in Britain each year?
No one really knows, but the best estimate is around 100,000 a year. Certainly a lot of foxes are killed on our roads every year, and this may be the single most important cause of death for foxes in Britain.
TopShould I feed the foxes in my garden?
If you want to, yes. Foxes provide endless entertainment, and have a pretty catholic diet. There are a couple of "don'ts":
- Do not try to get the foxes to take food from your hand, since they may then frighten other people by approaching them for food or, even worse, get into the habit of entering houses. Leave the food in the garden or a nearby piece of waste land and watch from a distance.
- Also, do not feed too much. It will make the foxes dependent on you. Also, it will encourage the foxes to hang around rather than go off foraging and can lead to excessive damage and fouling in your neighbours' gardens. This can cause unnecessary conflict and, in extreme cases, has led to the neighbours employing a pest control company to kill the foxes you are feeding. Avoid potential problems by being considerate to your neighbours.
TopWhy do foxes provoke such polarized opinions?
This is not an easy question to answer. Most people like foxes, and see them as an important component of our wildlife. However, a lot of myths have been generated about foxes to justify killing them, and these persist despite evidence to the contrary. As long as myths and misinformation are perpetuated, views about foxes are likely to remain polarized.