Urban foxes in Gloucestershire - are they a friend or foe?
FOXES are opportunist urban predators who can wreak havoc on farm stocks in the countryside, but love them or hate them they are here to stay.
A Channel Four documentary tracking fox activity across Britain has launched, with viewers able to track tagged animal movements online, revealing a fascinating insight into their hunting and feeding habits in towns.
Although figures show a spike in the number of RSPCA call-outs to rescue injured foxes, a Tewkesbury charity specialising in animal rescue say numbers in Gloucestershire could be on the slide.
Martin Brooks, 48, has been working for charity Vale Wildlife Centre in Tewkesbury for 16-years and says the numbers of foxes needing rescue from urban areas has dropped.
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“This spring we have had to rescue around 30 cubs, last year there were more than 50,” he said.
“Their natural rural habitats are being destroyed by farmers and land owners, so more are being forced into towns to get food.
“Some carry mange, that can be a threat to domestic pets and people. But they only become a problem when people feed foxes regularly and then stop. This encourages them to scavenge among their neighbours who then call us to help stop the problem.”
National figures from the RSPCA show around 5,500 foxes were collected by their inspectors last year, with around 50 per cent being put to sleep and the rest passed on to vets or dead on arrival.
In 2006, 217 foxes were admitted to RSPCA rescue centres but by 2010 - the figure had jumped to 302. Numbers dropped back to 273 last year across Britain.
Although it is hard to confirm population numbers, it is believed more than 33,000 foxes exist in urban areas, with a further 225,000 living on the countryside. Last year, 81 cubs and 17 adults were released from wildlife rescue centres.
“Foxes are amazing animals but they can be like Marmite - you either love them or hate them and they can cause neighbourly disputes,” added Mr Brook, assistant manager at Vale Wildlife Centre.
“We were called out to deal with a fox cub in Prestbury this week, around six weeks old, but when we arrived it had a broken jaw. It could have been hit by a car so we had to euthanise it.
“It is unusual for foxes to get into homes, but it can happen as they are natural scavengers.”
An attack on deer in Dursley and Woodchester Park earlier this year was blamed on a big cat on the loose. But DNA tests taken by experts from the University of Warwickshire revealed the killings were the result of a fox attack.
An RSPCA spokesperson said: “It is hard to get exact figures of fox related call-outs in Gloucestershire as they do not get categorised on our records.
“Our nearest fox rescue centre is in Cheshire so places like the Vale in Tewkesbury provide a vital service and a safe haven for injured foxes in that area.
“While some may consider foxes pests, many people like seeing them in their gardens and consider them a vital part of British landscape.
“A lot of people take great pleasure in seeing foxes wandering around, and enjoy the idea of wildlife thriving in a seemingly hostile urban environment.
“Those worried about their presence or who consider them a nuisance sometimes suggest that relocating or destroying foxes that are present in one part of town is the answer. However, this will simply encourage other foxes to move in from other areas and take their place.
“The most humane and long-term solution to discourage foxes is to remove or prevent access to the things that are attracting them to the area, like food and shelter.”
RSPCA guidelines on foxes state human contact should be kept to a minimum to avoid unwanted attention in future.
Despite fears over attacks on pets, a study in Oxford of fox droppings proved only eight out of 2,000 over a seven year period had signs of cat fur. In an urban area, a fox could overlap the territories of 100 cats, so reports of attacks are rare.
Foxes may approach cat flaps as they smell food within the house, rather than because they are looking for a cat.
The animal polarises opinion. With some saying foxes pose a serious threat to livestock, others prefer to leave food out for the animals and in extreme cases - adopt them as pets. The Citizen wants to find out how the urban hunter fares in Gloucestershire.
If you have any interesting stories of urban foxes mixing with mankind, or photos and videos showing their mysterious movements please let us know by emailing them in to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 01242 278079.