Fox – Vulpes vulpes
Habitat: Urban & gardens, Rivers and wetland, Coastal & marshland, Deciduous woodland, Mixed woodland, Arable land
Size: Average male 67-72cm; 62-67cm for females; tail about 40cm
Weight: Average 6-7kg for males; 5-6kg for females.
Diet: Foxes have a very wide and varied diet. On salt marshes they eat crabs and dead seabirds, while in upland regions carrion may be important, particularly during the winter months. In lowland rural areas small mammals, especially field voles and rabbits, are the major source of food, with earthworms, beetles, fruit (particularly blackberries) and small birds also being eaten. Urban foxes glean large amounts of food, much of this deliberately supplied by local householders. This is supplemented by scavenging from dustbins, bird tables and compost heaps. Those living in some urban areas eat many small birds and feral pigeons.
Lifespan: Although up to 9 years old has been recorded in the wild, most survive only one to three years.
Origin & Distribution: A highly adaptable species, found across Britain, but absent from Scottish Islands (except Skye), in all habitats from salt marshes and sand dunes to the tops of mountains. In Britain, more so than elsewhere in Europe, foxes have also adapted to life in urban surroundings.
As we know current records available do not give us complete population numbers. The Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have used current presence data available for British mammals from the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) gateway (Mammal Society records contribute to this) to create UK maps showing the most suitable habitats for a species and predict population densities from these, as can be seen here for foxes. Find out more about this new research here.
Behaviour: Foxes hold territories, the size of which depends on habitat; they can be as small as 0.2 square kilometres in urban areas or up to 40 square kilometres in hill country. Each territory is occupied by a fox family group. These often consist of a pair (dog fox and vixen) and their cubs. However, in areas where foxes are not persecuted and where there is a plentiful supply of food, a family group may contain several adults.
Breeding: Foxes have little legal protection. In some areas they are subjected to much persecution including shooting, being snared and dug out with terriers and caught with lurchers (fast, long-legged dogs). Self-locking snares and gin traps, both of which were once used to catch foxes, have been outlawed, and hunting with dogs became illegal in 2002. Free running snares are legal, but they must be inspected at least once a day. These humanitarian provisions are the sole protection received by foxes. Despite their lack of protection foxes are widespread and abundant. The success of the fox is due to its adaptability and it is in no need of active conservation measures. There were about 190 fox hunts in England and Wales in 2002, but these probably killed a small proportion of foxes compared to those captured in snares or shot. Road casualties probably make up 50% of the mortality.
Conservation Status: Foxes are not protected legally. For many years they were hunted for their fur, and as part of coutryside tradition. The Hunting Act 2004 outlawed hunting with dogs in England and Wales, from 18th February 2005. This also applies to the hunting of deer, hares and mink.