I’ve had a couple of complaints about foxes recently, perhaps brought on by increased activity caused by a clement spring and new cubs. It’s a tricky issue, because the council is very limited in the action it can take. Indeed, no London council offers a control service for foxes.
The city dwellers’ view of foxes
There are two distinct opinions on this. The first is that foxes are lovely animals and our neighbours in the urban environment. The second that they are vermin and if hunting could be re-introduced to Wandsworth it would be a good thing. While I recognise a fox can be an attractive animal, I also know they can be a vermin. Alongside the disturbance from rooting through our rubbish and their excessively loud mating they carry various pests and parasites, including toxocara canis.
Personally, I have never spoken to anyone who likes urban foxes, but do know of one case where a resident tried to start a campaign so save some foxes the council planned to kill. The result was that the council received lots of phone call and emails demanding that we carry on and get rid of them.
The problem with control
One of the problems with ‘controlling’ foxes is that it’s virtually impossible to do. Even if we were to eradicate the foxes from an area the neighbouring foxes will expand their territory to fill the gap, often within 24 hours. And the council has very few options, most forms of control are illegal.
Trapping is not possible, largely because of the risk to domestic animals. Live trapping, which would at least do no lasting harm to an unfortunate domestic animal is ineffective because the other foxes in the group rapidly become trap shy.
Poisons and repellants again carry a risk to domestic animals and are, in any case, very strictly controlled by law
Shooting is one of the few effective options available, but can only be used in very limited circumstances. We could not, for example, undertake a shooting operation in an area that might be used by the public. Effectively this limits shooting to contained council properties that form part of a foxes run – meaning that most foxes need have no fear of the marksman.
In any event, given the foxes ability to quickly repopulate an area the council only undertakes control where there is a risk posed by them (most especially schools).
The inhumanity of control
It is worth pointing out (though I know many will not be bothered) that there is no humane method of controlling a fox population. Every method of control will result in the fox’s death, and if the fox has a litter, then the cubs will also need to be tracked and killed. Relocation is not an option, since foxes are territorial and a relocated fox will be attacked and either kill or – more likely – be killed by the resident foxes. The RSPCA consider relocation so cruel they will prosecute anyone found doing it.
What can be done?
Given the limits on action the council can take, by far the most effective control is to limit their food.
For most people this means being careful about what food is thrown out. In my area, for example, foxes seem very partial to eggs and will rip open refuse sacks to get to them, but (and this is purely my own anecdotal experience) crushing and rinsing the egg-shells seems to have entirely stopped this. Where possible, you should put out your food waste as close to the collection as possible.
For some this means not deliberately leaving food out for foxes. There are a number of residents who actively encourage their local fox populations by leaving out food for them.
The council has produced a fact-sheet with other advice which can be found (along with other information and links about foxes) within the Environmental Services section of the council website.
I’d be interested in your thoughts. Am I a cruel and callous person for disappassionately writing about the slaughter of foxes? Or do you think the council should be employing more marksmen to deal with a pest-carrying vermin?