The Red Fox - these wonderful creatures with their stunning red coats populate most of our towns and countryside. With an estimated population of 250,000, their numbers are declining and so we need to take care of our furry friends.
Being canids, foxes are incredibly intelligent and very gentle. Their playful antics makes them a joy to watch and they are very agile and fast. In captivity, they can live up to fourteen years, but in the wild these playful cutie's rarely make two. Vixens are wonderful mothers and one of the few Mums that really teach their children well.
Harper Asprey has, over the last thirty years, rescued and rehabilitated many fox cubs and successfully released them back into the wild where they belong. We carefully survey and monitor any release sites to ensure that the area can accommodate these lively and inquisitive creatures. We have been very successful in our release programs and monitoring techniques. This information not only helps us to understand foxes but also gives us valuable information to improve our ongoing programs.
Fox Releases. When we release a fox cub there is a balance of care and a duty to ensure these stunning canids are not only "human" wary but also have the ability to defend themselves from other foxes and are able to forage well. Our strict rehabilitation program has developed to make this all possible. Not only is it successful but it is also extremely rewarding.
A concern is often raised with hand-reared cubs as to their ability to be released into the wild and be successful on their own. We have raised many foxes from a few days old and have been able to fully integrate them all back into the wild. These creatures are fearful of us and once they are removed from having constant contact into a carefully planned release site these clever creatures quickly adapt. Their instincts slowly take over and eventually after several months the fox is once again released back where it belongs in the wild.
Foxes are usually fearful of people and will mostly try to avoid us at all costs. Their first form of defence is always to flee - unfortunately, this has made them a target for sport. We are totally opposed to "dogs killing wild animals" for human pleasure, but we do encourage the humane sports of drag hunting and lure coursing to retain all its traditions without the need for cruelty. Over the last few years, foxes have been driven into built up areas and have survived and adapted well. These intelligent canids are nature's "clear up army" and will scavenge and eat most leftovers or should I say "run overs".
In the countryside, they will eat well on road kill and injured wildlife but in the towns they have adapted to leftover takeaways and processed food left out by people. Although this food is consumed by humans, for a fox the food is wholly inadequate and leads to poor health. Mange is a symptom of an unwell fox and, therefore, is prevalent in these situations. In urban areas, we find a high percentage of people feed them and entice them into their garden. They are often seen in daylight but usually look for a quiet spot to rest in until dusk.
Their boldness is not a sign of aggression - in fact, it's often a sign of trust - as people are increasingly encouraging them into their gardens. Toxoplasmosis is a common illness that can have the effect of a fox appearing tame; the virus makes them unaware of the danger and can give a vacant and relaxed look. A normal healthy fox is always listening and looking to remain safe. These "toxy" foxes will often come right up to people. As with cats that carry this virus, the treatment for this condition is not effective and once caught it is highly unlikely the fox can be returned to the wild.
Foxes have a fantastic sense of hearing and an equally good sense of sight and smell. They are wonderful creatures to watch at play and their games are fascinating. Vixens will teach their cubs to feed and their games often include food. Insects are a major part of their diets in the countryside and they can be seen diving into the grass in search of grubs and beetles.
Understanding Foxes. The only creature that seeks to annoy anything would be a human. Animals have far more important things to deal with such as surviving. Foxes have to eat every day to survive, they need protection from the weather and from us. Foxes have no natural predators in the wild, but numbers have declined in the last ten years. Foxes dig for three reasons; to find food; to bury food and to dig an earth. That’s it. Not for fun and not to annoy. Foxes are extremely clever and would only dig in "good digging" soil. Unfortunately for us, that could be a newly made flower bed or a golf bunker. Foxes are a little lazy but very, very clever.
If we choose to keep animals outside we need to do so securely. What we call our chicken run would be called a “larder” to a fox. He can open the door or dig a small hole and all those chickens/rabbits/ducks are just sitting on the shelves waiting for him. So clever fox kills them all and stores them for later - that is their natural behaviour - to secure the food source and store any excess for later. Some people feed foxes and again when they have too much food they take it away and bury it so if you have a lot of people feeding you will get a lot of holes. We recently went to a golf course that had problems with fox holes. After a quick survey from all the houses, we found out that 75% of the houses that backed onto the course fed the foxes. This produced lots of excess food as foxes aren’t overeaters, therefore, they did the clever thing and stored it. You guessed it, in the bunkers. There was no solution, but a happy head Green Keeper saw our red friend in a different light and is now cross with the neighbours, not the fox.
Foxes have a fantastic sense of smell and love bugs and earthworms that lie in the roots of plants and grass. Hence little holes in your lawn. The big holes/furrows will probably have been made by badgers. We must add that bone meal or fish, blood and bone based fertiliser in the soil may convince a fox there is already a stash there to be found. A vixen will dig multiple earth's prior to having her cubs. If she feels unsafe she will move them…I would say that’s clever and very caring.
Did you know that a foxes diet consists of over 90% scavenged food? A typical diet includes wild mammals such as rats, mice and invertebrates and, of course, loads of fruit. Birds make up a small amount of their diet. Mother nature ensures natural instinct is strong in these amazing mammals. Time and time again I see tiny cubs burying excess food whilst cubs that have never been wild still dig fantastic earths. So a round of applause for the clever fox please. Foxes are self-regulating and territorial, if a fox dies another will take its place. The removal of a fox is pointless and it’s far better to train this intelligent mammal than to remove it. If you find an injured fox please be careful when handling it. Although they can be extremely passive and tolerant of us they will bite if trapped or cornered. If you do catch one please put it in a secure strong box before transporting it to your local vet or wildlife rescue centre.
The Urban Fox. For years now we have slowly redeveloped, destroyed and reduced our countryside which has had a dramatic impact on our wildlife and their habitats. This has resulted in many creatures seeking alternative habitats in which to live. Over the years, foxes have slowly made their homes in our towns and have adapted well to live alongside us. Foxes are from the canid family and like their domestic cousin they are happy to be mans' friend. Their only problem is that some people feed and encourage them whilst other dislike them. Foxes are naturally shy, very trusting and extremely clever. They can tell the time and know exactly when and where to be for food. In the countryside they are predominantly nocturnal but in our 24 hour towns and cities they are often seen during the day sunning themselves in gardens and on shed roofs.
In order to survive in our towns their diet has changed. Foxes are the scavengers of the wild and eat all the left overs from nature which is a very important role. Their keen sense of smell and eye sight enables them to find food that people leave out in their gardens for them or food left for cats or birds.
Unlike man, foxes only kill to survive. If a fox manages to get into an insecure chicken run they will kill as many as they can and will not stop until they have them all. They will, given time, remove and bury all the food they have killed. Traditionally this would be when the farmer would be waiting for their return. They are basically very lazy, storing food saves energy and it is this that enables them to survive. We all store food in our cupboards and fridge freezers. Fortunately we don’t have to kill our food as we let someone else do it for us, foxes don’t have this luxury. If we were to look at our food chain, a lot more animals are killed and stored than we could eat in a lifetime. I have always fed foxes with all my food scraps and dog food. Foxes are very clever they know where to go to be fed. I have heard many people say “Those pesky foxes have been at my black bags again”, I am sure that if we were to set up a surveillance camera we would be greatly surprised to see it is not mainly the foxes but our own beloved family cats who most enjoy ripping at the bags. Most heavy dustbin raiders are badgers who are able to tip the entire bin.
I feed foxes and find that cats are the first in line to see what has been left out, these cats are well fed family cats and certainly not hungry. Foxes are very cautious of cats and are usually scared of them. They are a similar size it is the three inch coat on a fox that makes it appear larger. Foxes will however scavenge the carcass of a cat that has been run over. I have observed foxes allowing cats to eat first waiting until they have finished before tucking in. I have also witnessed a fox, a hedgehog and a bird eating out of the same bowl at the same time, so much for the legendary killer who will attack everything. Because their food chain has altered dramatically and they now rely mostly on takeaways and processed left overs, their poor diet has resulted in them suffering from mange. Mange is easily treated. It is so sad to see our urban fox mange ridden and covered with sores and less attractive than their countryside cousins. A lot of our foxes are killed on our roads, poisoned and often shot.
Foxes are very territorial and remain within their own boundaries of up to some 80 gardens and use specific runs and paths. When their cubs are born they will sometimes dig deep holes under sheds, or simply set up home in-between the boards the shed rests on. They only need a 120 mm gap to get their entire body through and give birth and rear cubs. When foxes have cubs they are far more cautious and will protect their young valiantly. If they feel threatened in their chosen birth place they will move their cubs to a more secure location. The clever Vixen will often have several places to hand. Once the cubs are able to get out the vixen will watch them play. I have sat and watched them play with balls, shoes, socks anything that takes their fancy with my cats looking on - neither have bothered each other. Foxes will mark their new found toys with faeces in the same way they mark their territory. Dogs also do this as do most other canids.
I fed one female fox for over two years and she often brought her young cubs to feed, I am mindfully aware that these are wild creatures and not domesticated and at no time have I ever tried to change this, we haven taken their habitat and they are adapting to ours.
Not everyone likes foxes and would like to deter them from their gardens, please see below simple methods to stop foxes entering your gardens.
Do not feed your cat outdoors or leave food on the ground over night.
Do not leave fallen fruit from trees on the ground.
If you have decking use a sprinkler on it regularly to prevent foxes living underneath it.
Keep your garden tidy and free from clutter.
Keep your shed secure and make sure it is raised from the ground with no save haven for foxes.
Do not use bone meal fertilisers.
Love them or hate them they are part of our wildlife. Their role of scavenger is essential for the natural balance. We have hunted them once to extinction, chased them out of the countryside, they are persecuted in the towns and are much maligned and used as a scape goat for the actions of other creatures and it is a total tribute to their resilience they are still here. Lets live along side them. If you have any concerns with foxes please contact us for advice.