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Facts and Myths About the British Urban Fox

To me, all life is precious; even garden pests, until they start munching too much veg. I find nothing is more wondrous than nature itself.

Urban fox in our back garden

Urban fox in our back garden

The Misunderstood British Urban Fox

With the help of my wildlife camera, I hope to shed some light on the lifestyle and habits of the British urban fox and show that they don't just go rifling through bins and that they don't chase cats.

They Eat Insects, Not Garbage

Although foxes are scavengers and opportunist hunters—and, being omnivorous, will eat anything—they don't spend all their time rifling through bins. One of the main food sources for the urban fox is invertebrates—e.g., worms and insects. Apart from perhaps occasionally digging up the odd plant in the garden, the fox can be beneficial to the gardener.

They Avoid Cats

Also, being shy and timid, the fox is no match for a cat. A cat will target the fox's nose with its claws, so the foxes will instinctively stay well clear of cats.

I haven't been able to get any good photographs of the foxes in our back garden because they are incredibly shy, timid creatures, but I have been able to get some video footage of them with my wildlife camera. I hope this will help to show the urban foxes for what they are.

What Are the Differences Between Rural and Urban Foxes?

There are subtle differences between rural and urban foxes, as there are subtle differences between the same species of bird depending on where they live.

In the case of birds, it's the pitch of their singing that is slightly higher so as to be better heard over the din of urban noise pollution. In the case of the fox, their eating habits are slightly different, and they've made other minor adaptations to living alongside humans with neither ever really meeting.

In fact, the urban fox, which currently numbers 150,000 in the UK, is generally welcomed and liked by most town and city people. This was no doubt the main driving force in public opinion that eventually led to the ban of fox hunting in rural England.

British Fox at 'Secret World' animal sanctuary in Devon.

British Fox at 'Secret World' animal sanctuary in Devon.

Are Foxes Dangerous Animals?

The answer is no. There were a couple of reported incidences in London a few years ago where one or two foxes had apparently harmed babies, but that is a very exceptional case. I've never heard of any such incidences before or since.

Foxes Are Timid

We have a large fox population in Bristol of about 16 foxes per square kilometre. Actually, Bristol has the third-highest urban fox population in the UK, with only Bournemouth and London fox populations being higher. So, it should be no surprise that I frequently see them in our back garden at night, but they're too timid to allow me to photograph them.

Occasionally, we'll see one darting across the road or going into someone's garden when we're coming home late after being out for the evening. As a child coming home late from visiting a friend, I even had a fox bump into me, but he instantly darted away.

Do They Hurt Cats, Chickens or Rabbits?

On several occasions when we've let our cats out first thing in the morning, it's been a great delight to see fox cubs and our cats playing together on our lawn. We haven't had the chance to film or photograph such events yet, because as soon as the foxes see us, they scarper—but perhaps one day I'll get the shots!

And no, I'm not afraid of foxes getting the cats. The idea that they would is a myth; foxes are shy and timid and no match for a cat. A fox face-to-face with a cat that is cornered will be facing a cat with its claws out, and the fox will come off worse every time.

The only reason a rural fox would go after chickens would be if the fox is desperate for food, since chickens can be easy prey. Foxes are not as much of a threat to rabbits as people might think as a rabbit can easily outrun a fox.

Why Are They So Hard to Photograph?

Although foxes are regular nightly visitors to our garden they are incredibly camera-shy, so the only sure way of getting them is by using our wildlife camera.

Where I Set Up My Wildlife Camera

When my wife bought me a wildlife camera for my birthday, I first tried it out a couple of times at night in our back garden, and I caught a fox on camera on both occasions. More recently, I set the camera up by our wildlife pond, where we filmed a pair of foxes in our garden day and night along with birds and cats (neighbours' cats as well as our own cats).

An Unexpected Scene: Fox Hanging Out With a Magpie

Recently, while I was working on the computer early one morning, I went downstairs to make myself a coffee. As I was waiting for the kettle to boil, I was fascinated to see a magpie and fox sharing our lawn; totally ignoring each other. The fox was sitting and cleaning itself in the middle of the lawn; while the magpie was hopping all around it (sometimes getting as close as only four feet away) pecking away at the lawn for food.

Then, a couple of hours later, (according to our neighbour) the fox had moved from our lawn to his lawn; contently sitting in the middle of it in the sunshine cleaning himself. When we let out our cat, it also decided to go next door. Our cat chased away the fox and claimed the lawn for himself.

Fox Relaxing in Poole, Dorset, England

Below is some rare footage I managed to get—and in daylight, too—filmed in Poole, Dorset, England early one morning while we were on holiday waiting for the ferry to arrive to take us across the English Channel to France.

Although we have frequent, nightly visits of foxes in our back garden, they're very timid. They're gone with the slightest movement or noise, so there is never enough time to get the camera out and take any photos of them. Therefore, this was a rare opportunity for me to capture a British urban fox on camera.

The 'One Contented Fox' portrayed in the video below was filmed by me in Poole, Dorset, England near the ferry port. You can see in the video that the fox was quite happy to just sit there relaxed and allow me to film him (or her, vixen), even though he/she could see me across the other side of the small open grassed field, which I would guess was probably about 50 metres (150 feet).

Foxes Pose Less Danger Than Bees

The fox is such a timid dog that face to face it's no threat to humans. Other large predators, such as wolves and bears that roamed England centuries ago, have long since been hunted into extinction. Even the one snake we have in Britain (the adder aka viper) is of little threat; they are timid and would much rather slither away than bite. If they do bite, usually the reaction to their poison is quite mild.

The biggest danger in England tends to be from bee or wasp stings when people have an allergic reactions, and even that tends to be extremely small with just two to six fatalities a year.

Fog in Devon

Fog in Devon

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Arthur Russ


Arthur Russ (author) from England on June 14, 2017:

Thanks for your feedback chas, and thanks for your detailed accounts anonymous; quite an enlightening read.

anonymous on September 15, 2012:

I think that foxes are quite well accommodated in our slovenian forests. Sill a few animals, such as bear, etc... are under protection and hunters are not alowed to hunt them, which is really grate since we should really tahe an extra care for any endangered species. Wonderful lens.

anonymous on September 14, 2012:

I didn't know that fox ate snails, perhaps a delicacy! It seems the fox has been the subject of many legends because its such an interesting creature that is great at helping with the rodent population. A few years ago my sister and her husband had quit an overpopulation of squirrels that they would take care of during the day and they'd watch for the fox to come every night at about the same time to see if there was an easy meal laying out for her. One night there were three and she tried to carry them all at one time but could only manage two in her mouth and hurried along her way to return for the third one.

anonymous on September 12, 2012:

Thanks I thoroughly enjoyed reading this lens. Calming effect.

chas65 on September 11, 2012:

Having traveled to England often in our antique business, we loved to keep an eye out for the occasional sighting. A young fox used to hang out in the back yard of the B&B where we stayed near Gatwick.