Fox

Foxes are common in urban areas where they can damage plants and can sometimes be considered a nuisance in gardens.

A young fox. Credit RHS/Mike Ballard.

A young fox. Credit RHS/Mike Ballard.

Quick facts

Common name Fox
Scientific name Vulpes vulpes
Plants affected A wide range of plants can be trampled or dug up. Ripening tree and bush fruit may be eaten
Main symptoms Fox excrement and the pungent smell of fox urine. Holes dug in the ground; chewed or 'stolen' items left in a garden; trampled plants
Most active All year round

What is a fox?

The European red fox is a scavenger and predator. It can have a very wide ranging diet, which may include birds and small mammals, as well as creatures such as earthworms and insects, including chafer grubs. They also eat fruits and scavenge discarded food.

 

Symptoms

How to tell if a fox has been active in your garden;

  • In many cases foxes go unnoticed in gardens and they cause no damage
  • In some gardens foxes cause damage by trampling plants, eating ripening fruits, digging holes or leaving droppings and food debris
  • A fox may dig up new plants, especially where bonemeal, dried blood or chicken pellet manure has been used. Foxes smell these materials and dig down searching for food
  • Foxes will hide excess food for future use, this can include burying chicken eggs they have found
  • Foxes also sometimes chew through plastic hosepipes and polythene tunnels
  • Dog foxes use their excrement and pungent urine as territorial markers, often leaving their droppings in prominent positions. If a garden forms the boundary between fox territories, it may be frequently marked in this way
  • Lawns that are infested with chafer grubs may be ripped up by foxes and badgers searching for the grubs during autumn to spring

Control

Information on living with foxes can be downloaded from the RSPCA 

  • It can be impossible to keep foxes out of gardens. Standard netting or fencing is unlikely to provide an effective barrier, as foxes are able to scramble over or dig underneath
  • In the absence of effective means of excluding urban foxes, it is often a matter of tolerating their presence and dealing with the nuisances that they cause. This may mean changes to the types of plant grown, with plants that can survive or avoid trampling
  • Fertilisers other than bonemeal, dried blood or other animal-derived fertilisers should be used
  • Holes dug by foxes should be filled in promptly before they deepen, otherwise a den may be established
  • Where foxes are breeding in a den in a garden, damage is likely to increase considerably, particularly during early summer when there may be up to five fox cubs running around in the vicinity of the den
  • Relocating urban foxes to rural areas is not recommended, as suitable habitats in the countryside are likely to be already populated with foxes, against which the town animals will struggle to compete. It is highly likely that other foxes will quickly move in and take over a garden territory that has been vacated by the removal of the resident animals

Animal repellents 

  • There are a wide range of animal repellent substances available for garden use. Proprietary repellent substances used against cats and wild animals need frequent applications to maintain their effect and in some cases appear to be ignored. 
  • Scaring devices that emit ultra-sonic sound may be effective in the short term but foxes may become accustomed to the sound and lose their fear 

Biology

Foxes are now frequently seen in towns and cities, where they often occur at greater densities than in rural areas.

  • Apart from the breeding season, foxes live mainly solitary lives 
  • Fox cubs are born in late March-April in a den dug in the earth or they can be situated under outbuildings.  After about four weeks, the cubs are old enough to emerge from the den and begin exploring the outside world. The cubs remain with their parents until mid to late summer when they disperse 
  • Foxes live for about three or four years but many young foxes are run over

Like all animals foxes can suffer from a variety of diseases. If you find a dead or dying fox you can register and report it on the Garden Wildlife Health Website.


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