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The Plight Of The Urban Fox

Corin Jackson argues that the critters are as much as part of the London landscape as Big Ben and the Gherkin

Written by . Published on November 1st 2011.

The Plight Of The Urban Fox

HOWEVER frequent the encounters and sightings may be, there is still something a little mysterious about the fox. One of the mysteries is the extent to which urban fox numbers have increased over the years. In actual fact, it is a common myth that they have. The reason we’re likely to bump into Mr. Fox on the way home from the pub, or when we’re dressing gown clad and taking the rubbish out is because he is no longer afraid of us. Foxes are not necessarily irrepressible, but simply less reproachful than they once were.

The fox often receives the same stigmatization as the rat, despite the fact both animals are sociable, intelligent and easily tamed.

There are an estimated 33,000 urban foxes in the UK, and around 258,000 in total. The fox is by far the most common and widely spread carnivore around. Despite the fact they no longer appear fazed by our presence, there have been very few cases reported of foxes attacking humans. Wildlife expert, John Bryant, maintains that foxes are among “the least aggressive animals you could share your environment with”.


Why is it then, that foxes have such a bad reputation? Foxes have been deemed a pest ever since they started to colonize the UK in the 1930s. By the 1940s, fox sightings in London were common and lethal fox control, in the form of shooting and trapping, was instigated from the ‘40s right through to the ‘80s. However, other than terrorizing our rabbits and ripping open our bins, did the fox really deserve the treatment of cruel pest control? Most of us seemed to believe otherwise when, after a long battle, the ban on fox hunting was decided in 2004 and then implemented in 2005. The fox’s acquired forthcoming nature certainly gives the illusion of gratitude.

The number of foxes in the UK is actually fairly self-regulating as a result of sarcoptic mange. So whilst we don’t have to worry about becoming overrun by the urban fox, the disease is common amongst foxes, giving them a vermin-like status. And yet, we don’t tend to treat rabbits as vermin, even after the myxomatosis outbreak. The fox often receives the same stigmatization as the rat, despite the fact both animals are sociable, intelligent and easily tamed.

Having said that, the fox never ceases to entertain us Londoners. In February, a male fox (Romeo) was found to be living at the top of the UK’s tallest skyscraper, The Shard. Romeo was, affectionately, described as “a resourceful little chap,” by the founder of Riverside Animal Centre, Ted Burden. He was released back onto the streets of Bermondsey after receiving a credible amount of press attention.


It seems we are somewhat mesmerized by the creatures, no matter how frequently we bump into them. Foxes (like many Londoners) are territorial. Therefore relocating them to the countryside would turn the fox into an intruder and prove fatal in a lot of cases. For this reason, foxes have an incredible knack of tracing their steps back home. A collared vixen was once released 56 kilometres away from her home and managed to track her way back in just twelve days. Other foxes are known to have travelled up to 150 kilometres back to London.

As it stands, the number of urban foxes may appear to be growing, but in reality, they are just a little braver and a little happier to be living along side us. The more fox encounters, the friendlier they are becoming and the safer they are to live with. We might as well admit that, however pesky they can be, London secretly loves the fox as much as the fox loves London.

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