Wednesday, April 17

Should I feed foxes? We ask an expert | wildlife


Whether it’s rewilding the garden or setting up a bee hotel, many of us are rethinking our relationship with the natural world and becoming more nurturing. But what of the often malignant fox? Shouldn’t we include it? I asked Trevor Williams, the founder of fox rescue charity the Fox Project, if we should feed them.

Hello, Trevor! Seen any good foxes today?
No, I’m too old to go out with the ambulances, though sometimes I bottle-feed the cubs.

Cute! Speaking of feeding, I met someone who said they leave dog food out for the foxes claiming it was a) nice, and b) stopped them going through the bins. Is this genius or madness?
Generally we suggest people don’t feed foxes, because it will undermine their territory if they can’t be bothered to go farther afield. Also, foxes don’t just take what they need – they take what’s available and bury it for later. And if it’s constantly turning up in nextdoor’s flowerpots, they may end up getting in someone to deal with the foxes lethally.

Lethal? But foxes don’t count as pests, they’re wild. Wouldn’t that be illegal?
Not remove. There are protections under the Wild Mammals Act, which make certain ways of killing illegal, but pest controllers use legal methods. Thankfully, most people like to see wildlife in their gardens, and feeding them can draw them in. So, if you’re doing that, feed a mixture of protein and roughage – their natural diet includes bone, fur, feather – and only a small amount, so they still need to scavenge. It’s just about compassion. Especially if there’s a hard winter.

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I love it when my vulpine visitors curl up on the shed in the sun, like a furry croissant. They’re keeping me up these days, though.
It’s mating season. If it’s one voice, the sound is them calling their chosen mate. Two voices means they’re meeting up, and that can be snappy. The vixen only comes into season for three days a year, so there can be a lot of attention from the male.

Who hasn’t been the fox that calls too much, or the vixen snapping back, am I right, Trevor? Anyway, do people still think of foxes as dangerous?
Some do, but there’s definitely been a change. In 2010, twin babies were attacked by a fox. People were phoning us saying: “Why are you defending foxes? Our children are in danger.” In 2018, a child was bitten and people called us, but they were asking for advice on deterring foxes, saying: “We know foxes don’t act like that normally.”

That’s amazing progress. I’m very much here for the ever closer bond of humans and the wild. They need us, we need them…
They don’t really. Wildlife can do perfectly well without us. Even in London, where people might think life is hard, there are plenty of rodents and birds. We’ve never seen an emaciated fox, unless it’s really unwell. They will always find food.

OK, fine – it’s still nice to be together, though.
Ofcourse. It’s the power of seeing wildlife. You look at a fox in the eye and you have a special connection. I remember an older lady telling me she lived in a dreadful concrete area in London but that she occasionally saw kestrels and foxes. And she said: “That gives me heart, because if they can make a living under the circumstances then I can, too.”

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