Take your pick; Handsomest of our wild mammals? Or dirty smelly vermin?
Boris Johnson thinks they are a menace. Our own Morning Star Features Editor loves them. When they visit her back yard she even posts pictures of them on social media.
I’m talking, of course, about our capital’s ten thousand urban foxes. That’s one fox for every 800 people living in London. Put it another way that’s one fox for every 16 square miles. A fox’s territory can cover up to 40 acres and in urban areas that can be 400 gardens.
It isn’t just London of course. There are estimated to be 33,000 urban foxes in towns and cities all over the UK and the consensus among experts is that there has been no significant increase recently.
Foxes first moved into towns and cities in the 1940s. Now most large conurbation will have a healthy and stable population.
Is there any difference between an urban fox and the little over a quarter of a million country foxes? No, In fact many foxes move between town and country, and most urban foxes are, in fact, suburban.
They are all identical species. The red fox (Vulpes vulpes).
Controlling urban foxes is complicated. They are protected under a series of wildlife laws. It is legal to control numbers but only in very limited ways. Shooting city foxes is both inappropriate and dangerous.
Generally killing foxes is pointless in urban areas anyway. A fox will constantly mark its territory. The moment it stops others foxes move in. If you kill a fox another will colonise the vacant territory within days.
Good humane methods to deter fox visits are often simple. Most effective, is motion-activated sprinklers that scare foxes away with a short burst of water. You might get similar results with a powerful garden hose.
Foxes are natural scavengers and will eat small mammals such as rats and mice, birds, fruit, carrion and discarded food. A Bristol University study found that on each fox territory there is usually 150 times as much food available as a fox can eat. We do throw a lot of food away and it isn’t all from KFC.
The urban fox’s country cousin can live for up to 15 years but city life is much more taxing. Urban foxes can expect to live for just two to three years. Most are run over. Another common cause of death is disease.
Experts advise that however much you love the urban fox you shouldn’t encourage foxes into your home or try to tame them. Never feed them from your hand.
Deliberate fox attacks are extremely rare but the animals do explore using their teeth and an inquisitive nip will certainly hurt.
There have been incidents where babies and small children have been attacked and injured by urban foxes but fortunately they are incredibly rare.
Far more common are children injured by pet dogs and even cats and statistically a small child is in far more danger from a pet parrot than a wild fox.
There are many benefits of having foxes in cities, they destroy vast numbers of rats and feral pigeons. The urban fox is a great pest controller.
Even the keenest fox fan knows they can be a nuisance. Vixens give birth around March and the cubs are normally driven in the late summer and autumn. The packs of marauding young cubs can be a real nuisance.
So the choice is yours. If you are lucky enough to have Old Reynard visit your home welcome him as a noble wild animal, don’t try to make him a pet.
Or, if you are unlucky enough to have Mr Fox visit your home frighten him off with a well aimed hose sprinkler.
Whatever you do, just don’t call in the hunt and the hounds, they really are the worst kind of vermin to have in your own back yard.
Finally, what do I think? Do I like or loathe the city fox? Well, it seems to me that anything Boris reckons is a real menace can’t be all bad.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star 18 July 2014