Renfrewshire Council

Picture of fox

Foxes

We would like to stress the advice to members of the public to refrain from feeding foxes. 

It is very important that no attempt is made to try to tame foxes, to encourage them to feed from the hand or to encourage them close or into houses using food. 

This is not fair on the foxes and is only likely to cause problems later for people and the foxes themselves. Urban foxes are wild animals and should be treated as such.

Many people are delighted to see a fox, but some regard them as a nuisance, especially if they occupy a den under a building or undertake certain activities too close for comfort.  

Complaints include fouling, digging up of lawns or flower beds, and causing a disturbance by barking ('shrieking' might be a more appropriate term) at night.

Hopefully the information on this page will help answer some of the questions that you might have:

Information on foxes

Foxes eat a wide range of foodstuffs.  Their diet includes small mammals, birds (including eggs), reptiles, insects, earthworms, fruit, vegetable and carrion.  In urban areas, about a third of their diet is scavenged waste or food deliberately provided by householders.   Foxes are opportunists, searching for and defending areas with suitable food and shelter.  Foxes live in small family groups that occupy a territory.  Territories in urban areas are typically much smaller than in the surrounding countryside.

Although foxes can become relatively quite tame, the average fox is very timid and will flee from any person who approaches it.  It is important that no attempt is made to encourage foxes to become tame, which could lead to problems for foxes and people alike.

It is also important to remember that the Red Fox, to give it its proper name, is a natural member of our wildlife community, and should be appreciated as the only surviving species of wild dog in the United Kingdom.  In fact the Red Fox, scientific name Vulpes, is not a true dog but does belong to the same family - 'Canidae' (dogs and foxes).  They are not a protected species as such, but they are protected against abuse and ill-treatment.

The fox's year
 

JanuaryThe mating season, when territories are well established and vocal activity at night starts to decline
FebruaryThe vixen seeks out a den (or earth), which she may be actively excavating.
MarchThe cubs are born, and the vixen stays underground while her mate hunts and brings in food.
AprilThe cubs start to appear outside the den.
MayThe cubs are now eating some solid food brought in by both parents.
JuneThe cubs are weaned from their mother's milk and stay above ground most of the time.
JulyThe parents begin to provide less food to encourage the cubs to start fending for themselves
AugustThe cubs begin to forage and become less dependent on their parents.
SeptemberCubs are now fully grown.  Natural food is plentiful and they start to forage on their own.
OctoberFamilies begin to break up and young animals start to disperse.
NovemberAdults fight with young animals, causing further dispersion.
DecemberFoxes are highly territorial and nocturnal vocalisation reaches its peak.

Facts about foxes

  • In urban areas the life expectancy of a fox is 14 months.
  • 70-80 percent of fox cubs die before they reach maturity and so never breed.
  • Foxes are nocturnal and hunt during the night but they do sometimes venture out during the day.
  • In urban areas, foxes eat a diet of scavenged food scraps, berries, plant bulbs, worms, garden insects, birds such as feral pigeons and the occasional small mammal including rodents, as well as pet rabbits, guinea pigs and chickens where they can.
  • Foxes generally avoid contact with dogs and cats. 
  • Foxes can carry the same diseases as domestic dogs, although it is rare for a fox to transmit disease to humans.

Why have foxes become so common in towns?

Foxes are highly adaptable animals and are found in a wide range of habitats, from seashore to mountain top.  The fox is primarily a carnivore, but also eats a variety of invertebrates and fruits.  They can find plenty of food in towns where there are small mammals, including rats, for them to prey upon.  They are also highly effective scavengers, and in town waste food can be plentiful.  Late at night, the occasional fox can be seen scouring town centres for discarded fish suppers and other fast foods! Increasingly, some people are deliberately putting out food to attract foxes into their gardens.  The easy availability of food is one of the reasons that urban foxes are abundant.

Foxes are noisy and keep me awake at night

Residents often complain they can hear foxes scream at night, particularly during the mating season in December and January. Although the noise is harrowing when first heard, it is entirely normal behaviour.  If you are a light sleeper, it may be best to wear earplugs.

In late August and September fox cubs leave their dens and prepare to find new territories of their own.  Vixens (female foxes) may be heard calling loudly as they lose control of their cubs, and the cubs may be heard squabbling over food and rights to new territories.  This behaviour is normal and will be difficult to prevent, so if the noise is disturbing your sleep, the best thing to do is wear earplugs.

The good news is that these sounds are only heard for a few weeks, a couple of times a year.  If you don't want to wear ear plugs and you are kept awake by foxes, try turning on a light, making a sudden noise or opening the door.  Usually these sounds and movements will scare a fox away.  

The foxes are causing damage to my garden

Around February Vixens look for a place to have their cubs.  They may enlarge a hole under a shed, dig under tree roots or into compost heaps to create an 'earth'.  Overgrown gardens are attractive to vixens looking for a place to have their cubs as they provide shelter and plenty of cover.

In August and September there are lots of cubs trying to find food and new territories for themselves.  They dig up plant bulbs and create holes in lawns looking for insects to eat.  Contrary to normal, the cubs prefer well-maintained gardens, as digging for food is easier and there is more space for play.

Fortunately this damage usually only occurs for a few weeks a year.  Blocking off the underside of sheds and removing piles of debris and compost heaps before the breeding season will encourage them to look elsewhere, but be careful never to block a cub in the earth.  Careful use of deterrents can protect a garden and cause the foxes to move on.

Foxes are damaging my belongings

During August and September, when the cubs are preparing to move on, toys, shoes and other items may be removed or damaged.  Items made of rubber or leather is especially attractive to foxes.  This is part of the foxes learning process and normally only lasts a few weeks.  They are exploring new objects, playing and finding out what's good to eat, make sure these objects are shut away before sunset.

Foxes are scavengers and will look for food.  Most people will have seen rubbish from refuse bags scattered around their back garden at some point.  Research has shown that the cause of this is more often cats and birds than foxes.  However, don't put refuse bags out until the morning of collection unless you keep them in a secure dustbin with a lid.

Are foxes protected by law?

Foxes are not afforded protection from human control measures.  However the law does prevent the use of poisons or illegal traps or snares to control foxes, and it is illegal to shoot them in urban areas such as parks.

Aren't foxes 'vermin'?

This is a very subjective term.  Scientific research has shown the fox's reputation as an agricultural pest to be undeserved; they very rarely kill lambs, despite many a tale to the contrary.  They will occasionally take hens or domestic ducks from a farmyard, but such losses can be largely avoided by securing the birds safely at night.  In urban areas foxes pose few problems other than being an occasional nuisance; in fact it could be argued that they perform a useful scavenging role by clearing up discarded take-aways at night, as well as keeping mice and rat numbers under control.

Do foxes carry diseases?

As with pet dogs, foxes can carry Toxocara canis, parastic roundworm which can be passed to humans.  However infection is extremely rare and only affects around two people per million in the UK each year.  All known infections have been transmitted from dogs, and in fact there is no recorded instance of foxes spreading any disease to humans, so basic hygiene precautions should be followed.  

Rabies is currently unknown in British foxes.

Will they attack my pets?

The fox is no match for most domestic cats and dogs, and it is very rare for a fox to harm them.  Young kittens and puppies are more vulnerable so should not be left outside unattended.  

Unfortunately foxes will take pet rabbits and guinea pigs if they are given the opportunity.  Using strong weld mesh or chain-link wire on hutches and runs will make pets more secure (chicken wire is not adequate), and mesh fencing must be buried to a depth of at least 45cm to prevent foxes from burrowing under.  Bolts are more secure than hook or twist catches and cannot easily be opened by a fox.  Garden pets should be made secure before sunset.

On the plus side, foxes do control mice and rats which are not desirable in or around domestic situations.

Can fox numbers be controlled?

Foxes naturally eat invertebrates such as worms and insect larvae, which they dig out of the soil.  They also dig holes in which to hide larger food items such as small mammals or birds, returning to retrieve them later.  In larger gardens foxes may excavate dens, or earths, in which the vixen raises her family.  These typically have one entrance hole up to 30cm in diameter, and active occupation is indicated by a strong musky odour.

How can I get rid of foxes?

The control of foxes by killing or relocating is not recommended in urban areas for a number of reasons.  Primarily, fox control is not advisable because it does not reduce the fox population over a prolonged period of time.  The empty territory created would soon be occupied by another family of foxes.  If foxes are causing a nuisance then the best recommendation is to exclude them from the vicinity where the damage occurs e.g. your garden.

Consider whether they are genuinely causing a nuisance.  If they are, there are a number of measures which can be taken to deter foxes from your garden without harming them. These include:

  • Fencing, which requires to be a strong weld-mesh wire dug in to at least 60cm and to a height of at least 2 metres.
  • The use of chemical repellents, which can be obtained at garden centres, DIY stores and ironmongers.  Spray these liberally (always following the label instructions) around your boundary or at places where you know the fox is gaining entry, or at spots of known activity such as digging or resting.
  • Do not put out food for them and make sure household waste is disposed of in a secured bin.  If you feed the birds in your garden, use feeders and bird tables, and if you do put food out on the ground, do so in the morning, never in the evening.
  • Enjoy your garden!  Human activity is the best deterrent.

If you discover an active fox den in your garden, it would be cruel and illegal to block up the entrance or take measures to evict the cubs.  Cubs are born in March and abandon the den completely by August or September, so it is best to wait until September and then fill the entrance lightly with sand, if necessary repeating this daily until any remaining animals are persuaded to abandon the den.  This procedure can be applied any time between September and February.  It is also possible to exclude the foxes from their den, or an entrance way to beneath a building, by the use of a 'one-way' cat flap.

Important information

  • Killing and controlling foxes is restricted under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
  • There is no poisonous substance authorised for use on foxes.
  • The Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 makes it an offence to intentionally inflict unnecessary suffering on any wild mammal
  • the use of Gin Traps is banned under the Pests Act 1954
  • It is an offence to set snares for foxes in a situation where a dog, cat or protected animal may be killed or injured.

Useful websites

There are organisations who offer useful information on foxes such as:

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