When I visited London for the first time, I knew I would be seeing many things I’d never seen before. Still, I hardly expected to see what I saw stepping out of a flat near King’s Cross one summer night.
Standing there, perfectly framed under a light post in the middle of Bingfield Park, was an ethereal red fox. Stunned, I stopped and stared at the red fox silently looking me over. Having grown up in a rural part of California, I was accustomed to all manner of wildlife making an appearance in neighborhoods from time to time. Deer would graze on my lawn, raccoons and coyotes patrolled the street at night, and I even had a multi-generational family of scrub jays that would come to my kitchen window for the occasional peanut.
But this wasn’t rural California. This was London; one of the most populous and urbanized places in the world. What on earth was a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) doing in a place like this? The next morning, I inquired about the fox and the locals told me that red foxes are actually quite common on the streets of London.
A Well-Adjusted Resident
Since the 1940s, red foxes have been taking up residence in urban parts of the UK. Approximately 10,000 of those foxes have come to call London home. There, they are simultaneously vilified as a scourge and celebrated as wonderful additions to the city (depending on who you ask). Fortunately for the foxed, 86% of surveyed Londoners look upon them favorably and they enjoy staunch legal protections.
So what is life like for a London fox? Based on the available research, London’s foxes have established a vast network of territories spanning gardens, parks, and yards and generally exist quite peacefully among their human neighbors. They are adaptable nocturnal omnivores, feeding on including berries, vegetables, insects, rabbits, birds, fish, and more. Being opportunists, urban foxes will feed on discarded food scraps and refuse, but claims of foxes subsisting entirely on overturned trash bins appear are dubious.
The relative peace of urban backyard gardens also makes London a boon for vixens looking for a nice place to start a family. Mating season for urban red foxes begins in January. Four to five kits are usually born in late March within dens underneath sheds, hedges, or in other sheltered areas. The kits remain in the den for 6-8 weeks, after which they leave to forage with their family until late fall when they strike out on their own.
Getting Along with the Neighbors
Life isn’t all great for urban foxes. Most don’t survive past their 2nd birthday and motor vehicles account for 60% of the recorded mortalities. There is also the threat posed by disgruntled human residents who consider foxes a nuisance and want them eradicated.
For several years, there have been calls for stricter controls and even for culs. Experts, however, maintain that those measures would be ultimately unsuccessful. The foxes are simply too adaptable and too established to effectively expel them from the city. As soon as you remove a group of foxes from one area, a new group moves in to fill the void within days.
Besides, the foxes are fulfilling at least one very useful and welcome role. London has a persistent rat problem, and the presence of a predator with a penchant for rodents provides an invaluable service.
Want to learn more about London’s urban foxes? The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and The Fox Website are two good places to start. You can also see the Further Reading section below for some articles from the BBC and other sources. If images are what you’re after, be sure to visit the Urban Fox group on Flickr.