I lived and worked in London for over ten years. During my time there I saw a fox about once a week. They were regular visitors to our small garden and one even took regular afternoon naps on my neighbour's shed roof. Three years ago I moved to the Norfolk countryside and since then I have not seen one fox.
I know they're there, a patch of feathers that was once one of my beloved chickens confirmed their existence soon after my arrival. But they remain elusive, hidden and for good reason. Foxes are deemed by many country folk to be public enemy No 1. They are a danger to farm livestock, backyard chickens and local bird populations. As such they are carefully, legally and in some cases ruthlessly controlled.
This isn't the case with urban fox populations. Painted as sugar sweet balls of ginger fluff by cartoons, conservationists and anti-fox hunting campaigners, urban foxes have been welcomed with open arms (and it seems open doors) by too many in the city. It's been eight years since the banning of fox hunting and thanks to the rising population and confidence of urban foxes it seems the romance is well and truly at an end.
For the record, I don't agree with fox hunting. I welcomed the ban and I still support it today. But it's about time that people woke up and faced the facts. Foxes are cunning predators with clever minds and sharp teeth. And quite simply, there are too many of them.
Urban fox numbers must be controlled, but I don't think a cull is the answer. Here's why:
Foxes are welcomed as friends in some urban gardens
Far from trying to discourage foxes, some people leave food out to attract them into their gardens. This is total madness! If someone in my rural Norfolk village was found to be leaving food out for the local foxes they'd get a stern talking too. Feeding foxes is totally irresponsible. It not only encourages them to associate humans with easy meals but it also makes them bolder and more likely to push their luck, especially during the colder months.
As long as food is up for grabs in a garden there will be a fox who finds it. Unless people stop leaving their scraps out to encourage foxes - not to mention rats and feral cats - foxes will continue to be drawn to urban gardens, a cull will not change this.
Fortnightly bin collections mean free meals for foxy
Thanks to fortnightly bin collections, waste food is often left festering on pavements for foxes to feast on. Like any wild animal, foxes go where the food is, so a culled population would quickly be replaced with new arrivals hungry for their free hand-out. Such an abundance of ready-to-eat meals has eliminated the 'survival of the fittest' process from the fox population. Weak or sick animals that would normally succumb to starvation are instead well supported by rich pickings in our towns and cities.
Litter is a problem too. A friend recently commented that walking down the local town centre street on a Sunday morning was like wading through the leftovers from a massive street party. And she wasn't alone - local foxes also took regular advantage of this weekly free-for-all. The chances of Saturday night revellers taking responsibility for cleaning up their own mess are slim (although they should) so city councils need to step up and take responsibility, and fast.
Conservationists and charities are 'saving' sick foxes
If a fox is injured or contracts mange in the countryside it will probably die. Unable to hunt it will either starve to death, fall casualty to a stronger rival or die from hypothermia in cold weather. But not the urban fox. It has become such an everyday part of city life, such a 'member of the family' that there are charities and organisations dedicated to preventing this normal, natural life cycle.
The National Fox Welfare Society sends out thousands of free mange treatments for concerned fans to feed local foxes and their website even features a page encouraging people to leave food out for foxes, detailing how to get extra vitamins into their furry friends. The RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of cruelty to Animals) offers similar advice in its leaflet 'Living with Foxes'. I find this ludicrous; we are not dealing with an endangered species here, foxes don't need our help!
Treating sick foxes and releasing them into the countryside is another pointless exercise. An urban fox that is not used to hunting for its own food will quickly be pushed back towards the city by the tougher, local population. If they're lucky they'll make it back to the streets and go back to picking through rubbish. If they are not they'll wander onto a farm looking for an easy meal and probably meet a swift end.
Whilst the prolonged suffering and eventual death of any animal is not pleasant to think of, it is a natural part of the wild lifecycle and essential to the natural management of wild foxes. As a population, foxes are more than capable of supporting themselves. Human interference is directly responsible for the rise in fox numbers and until we learn to curb our need to 'help' the issue will continue.
Countryside televison programs are misleading city viewers
Popular wildlife programs such as Countryfile or Springwatch regularly entertain viewers by showing the successful re-introduction or re-establishment of a wild bird species, congratulating the conservationists on a job well done. But they are being dishonest with you. These programs always fail to mention that in many cases, local fox populations are carefully managed - usually through culling - in order to ensure that a vulnerable bird species gets a decent foothold in a new area.
Why hide these facts? Surely being upfront about the real measures that need to be taken to control predator populations, including foxes, would serve to educate the public? A quick search of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) website reveals that trial management of fox numbers is already taking place in several of its nature reserves. And if people can see and accept that fox numbers need to be controlled for the safety of birds, perhaps they would finally understand why they need to be controlled in urban settings too.
And finally… a cull would be too expensive anyway
If I were to have an ongoing issue with a local fox I'd simply alert the farmer whose land adjoins my own and he'd polish off his rifle, but this sort of action isn't possible in the city. According to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea's website, the cost of killing just one urban fox is between £500 and £1,000. Given that a cull would need to number hundreds to have any effect, it seems unlikely that local councils will take this course of action.
A fox cull would probably have to be supported by a raise in council tax - although perhaps that in itself might be a suitable threat to the legions of fox huggers out there? Continue to feed and mollycoddle these wild animals and eventually you will pay the price, whether through the spread of disease, the destruction of property or the money in your pocket.
Like it or not, the urban fox population needs to be controlled, not wiped out, just managed carefully so that they can live quietly and independently alongside their human neighbours. I don't believe a cull is the answer, firstly because it's unlikely to happen anyway and secondly because until we stop looking at foxes like loveable rogues and start treating them like wild animals, clean up our mess and, above all, stop leaving food out, the population will continue to grow uncontrollably. Nature, along with our cars (about 100,000 foxes are killed on the road every year) will control the fox population, if we allow it to.