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Management of the rural and urban fox
The UK fox population is estimated to be some 240,000 (pre-breeding) of which 14% are in urban locations. Some 425,000 cubs are born each year and clearly unless the population is to increase, a similar number of foxes must die each year.
The fox is almost without predators in the UK other than man so that unless the population is managed with up to 68% of the post-breeding population culled:
- Numbers of foxes will rise progressively
- Predation on vulnerable livestock will increase and become unacceptable in some areas.
- The level of predation on game and other ground-nesting birds will increase
- Nuisance behaviours, e.g. digging and defaecating in suburban gardens, will become more commonplace.
- Death will only occur through disease, starvation or injury.
In the absence of management by man (“leaving it to nature”) fox numbers will only plateau when shortage of food as a result of overpopulation and disease suppress reproductive activity or a significant rise in mortality results. This does not represent a healthy vigorous population.
Foxes potentially carry a number of significant diseases transmissible to man and domestic animals including rabies, canine distemper, alveolar echinococciosis, angiostrongylosis and sarcoptic mange (see ref Simpson, 2010 below).
Control of the urban fox can only be achieved by a continuous programme of trapping and humane destruction. Urban foxes, which have lost their instinctive fear of humans, are more amenable to trapping than rural foxes. The practice of dumping trapped urban foxes in the countryside where they are unable to survive is both inhumane and harmful owing to the possibility of cross infection from urban to wild.
The combination of shooting, snaring and hunting as was practised in varying degrees across the country represented a well-tried management system for the rural fox that would be very difficult to improve. Since the banning in England, Wales and Scotland of hunting with hounds, wildlife managers have regrettably been forced to rely more heavily on the less humane and less selective methods of control namely snaring and shooting. But if biodiversity is to be preserved fox numbers must be controlled. The current campaign by single issue animal rights organisations to ban snares is therefore not in the interest of biodiversity in particular the conservation of ground-nesting birds such as curlews, golden plovers and lapwings.
The majority of rural foxes culled in the UK are shot using a rifle. But wounding rates using a rifle can be up to 48% and for a shotgun as high as 60%. Although killing rates increase with the skill of the marksmen, wounding rates do not decrease (ref 2003).
Non-lethal (artificial) methods of population control, such as the laying of contraceptive baits, which are attractive to research groups and single issue organisations, would be impractical, expensive and ethically and biologically questionable. Furthermore they would pose a risk to other wild and domestic species.
The dispersal effect of hunting is valuable in preventing concentrations of foxes in areas where there are vulnerable livestock (ref 2002b).
Hunting provides a vital search and dispatch system for detecting debilitated, wounded and diseased animals in the countryside (ref 2002b)
Prior to the Hunting Act the rural fox population was in good shape precisely because it was managed. Now the rural fox is persecuted as a pest and the population is suffering as a result. The moderation ethic has been lost (ref. J.C.Reynolds 2000, Fox control in the countryside).
Hunting with hounds is a vital and essential tool in wildlife management which should be returned to the countryside (ref 2012).
- Submission to the Law Commission's review of wildlife legislation, November (2012)
- Life in the Wild (2011)
- The fox as a reservoir of disease. V.R.Simpson, paper to VAWM symposium November (2010)
- Letter to the Scottish minister commending his decision to retain the use of snares (2008)
- Welfare aspects of shooting foxes, N.Fox, S.Rivers, and others, Middle Way Group (2003)
- The need to manage some wildlife populations, A.McDiarmid and L.H.Thomas, November 2002
- A veterinary opinion on hunting with hounds (2002b)
- Fox control in the countryside, J.C.Reynolds, The Game Conservancy Trust, Fordingbridge, Hants. (2000) - available from the GCT (www.gct.org.uk)
- Evidence to the Burns Inquiry.