Towns and cities are growing rapidly across the globe. In 1960, about a third of the world’s population lived in urban areas – this is set to reach two-thirds by 2050 according to the United Nations. And Britain is up there, near the top of the leader board with 83% of people being townies. So how sustainable is this? Not just for people, but for wildlife?
Perhaps some hope comes from the fact that many cities still have lots of green space. We have gardens, allotments, golf courses, railway-line embankments, etc. Can those offer a refuge for wildlife? I was recently in Africa and met the extraordinary sights of creatures like warthogs, baboons and hyenas in the streets. Now, we may not have animals quite that exotic, but we do have our own über bin-emptier, the red fox. The sights, sounds and smell of foxes are now familiar to many city dwellers in a way that would have been unimaginable 50 years ago.
In contrast to its familiarity in the city, I am increasingly concerned by reports of declining numbers of foxes in the wider countryside. We have to remember that cities still form a relatively small proportion of our land-cover – most of the UK is still agricultural land, woods and forests. So if this fall is real, there could be major implications for our countryside.
We need the public to help us monitor foxes. Now is a great time of year to do it because there is a lot of night — many of us are still commuting to and from work in the dark. It doesn’t matter whether you live in the countryside or the city: remarkably, we still have very little idea of total numbers of urban or rural foxes. What you need to do is download our free Mammal Mapper app (for more information, see our website: (www.mammal.org.uk/volunteering/mammal_mapper). Go out on a walk in the evening (or a drive, as long as someone else is driving), press the button to tell us that you are starting your survey and record the wildlife you see. Even if you don’t see anything, please submit your survey as that is vital information too! For ad hoc sightings, rather than sightings and signs found on a timed walk/ride, please use the sister app Mammal Tracker.
Please help us work out whether Reynard the Fox has packed up his bags and moved to the city for easier pickings, or whether he’s doing just fine in the countryside.
Prof. Fiona Mathews, Mammal Society Chair