Urban foxes

Wednesday 30 October 2013, 16:12

Dr Bryony Tolhurst Dr Bryony Tolhurst Research scientist

Since last February, we have been studying foxes in Brighton and Hove, to find out where they go, what they do, and why. We capture foxes in live traps and attach GPS collars, before releasing them and subsequently monitoring their movements remotely.

Urban fox

 A urban fox that will be tracked using a GPS collar

During this process, Brightonians have generously allowed us access to their gardens, sometimes at very unsociable hours, and without this contribution, my colleagues and I couldn’t have gathered such a wealth of data.

Urban foxes are traditionally associated with bin scavenging, but we have been struck by the number of people who regularly feed foxes, sometimes by hand. Inevitably more questions have arisen: does feeding mean more foxes? Does it create ‘bolder’ foxes, accustomed to close contact with humans? Is it a good idea to feed foxes at all?

There is no straight answer to the last question. The benefits to human well-being from interacting with nature are well documented and for many – especially those in urban areas - opportunities to watch wildlife are limited.

Globally, the expansion of towns and cities means that wild carnivores have to survive in urban environments. It’s fantastic that city children can watch wildlife so easily. On the other hand, the few but alarming incidences of foxes biting people in recent years make us question the wisdom of getting so close. Are we artificially enhancing fox numbers and inevitably creating conflict?

We hope our study will shed light on some of these issues. We also hope, in due course, to provide concrete advice on how we can peacefully coexist with such an interesting and adaptable species.


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    Comment number 1.

    What noise do foxes make, or as the song in the charts goes, 'What does the fox say?'

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    Comment number 2.

    What do urban foxes live on

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    Comment number 3.

    What is a Female daily diet?

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    Comment number 4.

    I'd love to be able to see a "live feed" of the results from this study.

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    Comment number 5.

    I just had to share this that happened a couple of years ago. I was driving my teenage daughter through Leicester City Centre and we saw a fox at a light controlled pedestrian crossing. It reached up and pressed the button, waited for the lights to change and then safely crossed. We didn't have a camera but we were both amazed. Is this a particularly intelligent Leicestershire fox? or are they all this clever??

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    Comment number 6.

    I understand the admiration for our urban foxes but as an urban chicken keeper I have to disagree in part. Particularly sad this year for me was that at the bottom of our garden is an abandoned school where two bantam cockerels who had escaped from a garden nearby were living wild with two odd hens who must have also escaped. When this years cubs matured they had killed them all.they had given so much pleasure to so many passers by in Western Park for about 18 months.

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    Comment number 7.

    We live 5 mins away from the villa in Brighton where you are studying the foxes, up the hill on the other side of Elm Grove. If you want to know where there is a vixen, we have one visit us regularly, in fact two of her young (from this spring) have been spending most of their days in our garden mostly sleeping on our shed roof. At least one fox walks along the street's roof tops, each night, to leave the enclosed back to back gardens. Returning the same route, including the flat roof above our bedroom, jumping down onto our conservatory roof, down into the garden and along the garden walls returning to its long standing den. This has been going on for a few years now, with a new family every spring. We have plenty of photos as we watch them frequently. One of the young one's was barking in the garden when I got in this evening, it added to the Halloween scene!

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    Comment number 8.

    Hi Gill, I'd recommend that you contact Dr Bryony Tolhurst and Dr Dawn Scott at the University of Brighton. You can easily Google their names for a contact telephone number. This study is only made possible through Brighton residents granting kind access to gardens. Be part of citizen science and give it a go.

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    Comment number 9.

    Until 2 years ago we lived in Crowborough, East Sussex and for over 15 years I fed the foxes that visited our garden. I did this every 2-3 nights (not every night as I didn't want them to become totally reliant on this). For the last 8 years we lived there, and seemingly too frequently to be a coincidence, I found that if I didn't put food out in their bowl on the 4th night, there was poo in the bowl the next morning - almost as a protest. Is this common behaviour, or did I have a rare group of foxes?

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    Comment number 10.

    Bloodcurdling screams after dark, so I understand, are those of a dying hedgehog as it is eviscerated by a fox. The sequence is: fox attacks; hedgehog curls up; fox waits by its side; eventually hedgehog uncurls; fox strikes, grabbing hedgehog underneath and ripping it apart via the abdomen; the hedgehog screams for 15 to 30 seconds as it dies. Our grass is thick with slugs and snails which used to be eaten by hedgehogs. But the foxes kill hedgehogs by the above method as soon as they get a sniff in spring and summer. The sound of a hedgehog dying in this way is pitiful, but also unmistakeable. Am I right? I challenge the team to mention it on air. - Peter Shrubb

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    Comment number 11.

    Fox eats Hedgehog, not kebab. This story is a sensation, and trumps death by slug pellet.

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    Comment number 12.

    Foxes make over 20 different call types including barks, screams and chittering calls. The scream is the blood-curdling call commonly heard at night in the winter mating season, and this is probably what is being mistaken for the sound of a dying hedgehog. I believe it is badgers that are killing the hedgehogs with their hard claws that are unaffected by the hedgehogs' spines.
    Urban foxes are opportunists and eat almost anything, including meat scraps and leftovers, uneaten pet food, fallen bird nuts, rubbish in bins (particularly food waste) and of course rats, mice, small birds and frogs, and sometimes invertebrates too. And of course they take advantage of any road kill they may come across.


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