Wildlife protected by the Hunting Act: Foxes
Foxes are members of the canidae family, the same family as wolves and domestic dogs. In Britain, the average fox is only slightly bigger than a pet cat. A female fox is called a vixen, a male is called a dog.
With their well known large bushy (often white tipped) tails they are usually reddish brown in colour. The silver fox (black foxes) and cross fox are just colour variations of the red fox, not a separate species.
The average lifespan of a fox is 1 to 3 years but they can live up to 11 years.
Habitat and Range
- The red fox is the most widely distributed wild carnivore. It naturally occurs across North America, Eurasia and Japan, even as far north as the Arctic Circle. This highly adaptable species can also be found in a variety of habitats as diverse as tundra, forests, deserts, wetlands and cities.
- Foxes sleep and breed in holes called earths. Sometimes they dig the hole themselves, but they also use old badger setts, hollow trees and spaces under garden sheds.
- Foxes can be found in; farmland, grassland, heathland, woodland, upland, towns and gardens.
- If you want to encourage a friendly fox into your garden, try putting out a meal of dog food.
Diet and Feeding
- Foxes are omnivorous, feeding on small mammals, birds, frogs, earthworms and carrion, as well as berries and fruit.
- On salt marshes they eat crabs and dead seabirds. In lowland rural areas small mammals, especially field voles and rabbits, are the major source of food.
- Just as likely to be seen in towns and cities as in the countryside, foxes are now well-known for scavenging food scraps from bins, as well as catching pigeons and rats.
- Males bark but females make a spine-chilling scream, heard mostly in the winter when their courtship takes place.
- Usually only one vixen in a group produces cubs, once a year in the spring. Litters average four to five cubs which are born blind and deaf in a den (called an earth). The earth may be dug by the foxes, or they may enlarge a rabbit burrow or use holes made by other animals. In urban areas, cubs are often born under garden sheds. A vixen stays in the earth with her cubs for the first two weeks of their lives. At about four weeks old, usually in late April or early May, cubs begin to come into the open.
Status and Threats
- The red fox is classified as less concern on the IUCN red list and as such is largely unprotected in Britain. The most significant piece of legislation for fox welfare is the Hunting Act 2004 which prevents the hunting of foxes with packs of dogs.
- Most fox deaths in Britain are caused by road accidents, shooting and other control methods.
Foxes are often made out as pests by those who want to persecute them, but the facts don’t support the demonisation of this iconic British species. Here we bust some common fox myths…
- Myth: Foxes are just vermin and are not wanted by the public
Fact: Foxes are one of Britain’s most popular mammals – according to a recent Mammal Society survey. And despite the media hype, only 8% of people dislike urban foxes while 66% of people are fans.
- Myth: Foxes cost farmers money
Fact: Foxes are farmers’ friends. By feeding on rabbits, the staple diet of rural foxes, they save British crop farmers around £7 million every year. In its lifetime, one fox is worth up to £900 in extra revenue to farmers.
- Myth: Foxes numbers are increasing especially in urban areas
Fact: Fox numbers in the UK are stable. Annual surveys show that rural numbers have remained around 225,000 adults for the past decade. Urban numbers are holding steady at 33,000, although bad human habits may be causing an increase in boldness.
- Myth: Foxes kill a significant number of lambs so need to be controlled
Fact: Foxes are often easy scapegoats. According to Defra, 95% of lamb losses are due to poor farming practices, with confirmed losses to foxes less than 1%.Fox predation does not have a major impact on sheep farms. All predators combined (foxes being only one of many) and misadventures (accidents) account for just 5% of all lamb losses per year in Britain.
- Myth: You have to control fox numbers
Fact: Killing foxes does not control fox numbers. A dead animal leaves an empty territory that is filled by a new fox within 2-3 days. Fox numbers are controlled by food and territory availability.
- Myth: Foxes kill for pleasure
Fact: Foxes don’t waste food. If they find or kill more than they can eat at one sitting, they bury (cache) the food to eat later.
- Myth: Foxes are damaging to woodland
Fact: Foxes help forests grow. By feeding on field voles and rabbits, the species that do the most damage in young plantations, foxes help reduce economic losses to forestry.
- Myth: Foxes are an urban menace and constantly raid rubbish bins
Fact: Foxes are far too small to tip over a dustbin full of rubbish. To scavenge from bins they jump on top and knock the lid off. This is easily prevented by using bins with locking lids or securing the lid with a bungee cord.
Conservation Status and Public Opinion on Fox Hunting
Foxes are common and widespread. The Red Fox has been persecuted in the UK for centuries, including by hunting with packs of hounds, shooting, being snared, dug out with terriers and caught with lurchers (fast, long-legged dogs). Fox hunting originated in Britain in the 16th century, but was banned in Scotland by the Protection of Wild Mammals Act (2002), and in England & Wales by the Hunting Act (2004).
Hunting foxes and most wild mammals with dogs is illegal in the UK on animal welfare grounds. Self-locking snares and gin traps, both of which were once used to catch foxes, have also been outlawed.
Two-thirds (66%) of the population are fox fans according to a recent survey by the University of Bristol.
Information provided by the League Against Cruel Sports, The Mammal Society and The Wildlife Trusts
Reporting Wildlife Crime
The best way to report fox hunting including suspicious hunting behaviour is to call the Police Wildlife Crimeline on 101.
Further Reading & Useful Links
Fox Habitats and How to Identify
Species Fact Sheet: Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
Simon King Wildlife: Badger Fox Feeder Live Web Cam
Simon King Wildlife: Fox Family Live Web Cam
IFAW: The Ban on Hunting With Dogs