It was spellbinding to wake up on a sunny Sunday at my aunt’s house and open the curtains on this beautiful russet-coloured fox having an nap amongst the ivy. What made it more surprising was that my aunt doesn’t live in a tranquil corner of the Cotswolds but bustling, lively Brixton in South East London. My fantastic Mr Fox wasn’t unique, either – walking home at night over the last month I’ve seen more than 20 of the animals out on the streets and in gardens, on the hunt for their urban foodstuffs of choice – rats and rubbish.
It’s uncertain quite how many foxes there are in the capital – the Guardian cites an estimated 33,000 in the 1980s and the BBC reckons there are currently 10,000 red foxes in London. They were largely tolerated by city dwellers until a flurry of media attention last year, when a fox purportedly attacked baby twins, asleep in their house in Hackney. A plethora of articles on the ‘terror’ posed by the animals followed, despite this attack being a pretty isolated incident – Martin Hemmington, of the National Fox Welfare Society, was quoted at the same saying that a fox mauling a child is extremely unlikely (and far less likely, it should be remembered, than an attack by a dog). Other complaints made about the animals are their screeching at night and the presence of faeces in gardens. But do foxes really deserve this reputation of being vermin?
It should be remembered that foxes in cities eat rats, a carrier of disease, as well as pests like slugs and snails, and are only present in urban areas due to the huge amount of unwanted food waste which people leave where they can get at it. The best way to deter foxes is simply to keep rubbish in secure bins and avoid the temptation to feed them. I personally see no reason why animals that pose no real threat to humans, are so beautiful to observe and are a part of the surprisingly wide variety of urban wildlife present in London should not be allowed to coexist as peacefully with us as the fox asleep outside my window (who after opening his eyes and watching me watching him for a few minutes, yawned and went back to sleep).