Frequently Asked Questions
Problems with foxes in rural areas:
- Why do foxes kill for pleasure?
- What is the best way to protect lambs from foxes?
- What is the best way to protect chickens from foxes?
- Are urban foxes being dumped in the countryside?
- Are foxes causing more livestock losses following the hunting ban?
- Does the Hunting Act 2004 stop me killing foxes?
- Is it still legal to dig out foxes with terriers?
- Do foxes have any natural predators?
- Is there a close season for foxes in Britain?
TopWhy do foxes kill for pleasure?
They don't. However, when the opportunity arises, foxes kill surplus prey even if they are not hungry and cache (bury) it for later use. This is a very sensible strategy in the wild, since there are likely to be some days when hunting is a lot less successful, and so the fox can eat the prey killed earlier. However, in an unnatural situation such as in a hen house, where the prey cannot escape, this behaviour, called "surplus killing", leads to the fox killing far more prey than it could ever consume.
TopWhat is the best way to protect lambs from foxes?
Overall, lamb losses to foxes are very low, and fox predation is much less important than other causes of lamb mortality. Higher than average levels of lamb mortality are associated with poor standards of husbandry, and so the most cost effective way to reduce lamb losses is better husbandry. Lambing indoors greatly reduces lamb losses, as does using guard animals such as alpacas or certain breeds of dogs (such as the Akbash dog, Anatolian shepherd dog, Caucasian sheepdog, Pyrenean sheepdog and Tatra mountain sheepdog) that have been bred to protect livestock from wolves and other predators.
TopWhat is the best way to protect chickens from foxes?
The vast majority of chickens in Britain are raised in battery conditions and foxes are the least of their problems. Losses of free-range hens are generally low, and protective measures such as electric fencing further reduce these losses. People who keep chickens for personal use suffer less losses from foxes if they are securely housed and not left out at night.
TopAre urban foxes being dumped in the countryside?
This is a long-standing myth. The story is invariably that someone knows someone who saw a white van full of urban foxes being dumped in the countryside. Unfortunately, no one has ever had the gumption to record the number of the van. Catching foxes is a slow process; catching a van load would take a long time. Yet no one has ever been found with a shed full of foxes waiting to be released (since foxes are both smelly and noisy, they would be extremely difficult to hide). This story has been around for at least a quarter of a century and is still frequently repeated, despite the absence of any evidence that such practices occur. For much of this time, the RSPCA and League Against Cruel Sports have offered rewards for anyone producing evidence of foxes being dumped in the countryside: they remain unclaimed.
TopAre foxes causing more livestock losses following the hunting ban?
No: although such claims frequently appear in the press, the number of foxes has not changed after the ban on hunting, and there is no evidence that foxes are causing any more livestock losses.
TopDoes the Hunting Act 2004 stop me killing foxes?
No: it is perfectly legal to kill foxes, although there are a few restrictions on the ways you can do this. It is, for instance, illegal to lay poisons for foxes, and of course it is illegal to hunt them with packs of hounds.
TopIs it still legal to dig out foxes with terriers?
The Hunting Act 2004 permits the use of no more than one terrier below ground at any one time "for the purpose of preventing or reducing serious damage to game birds or wild birds which a person is keeping or preserving for the purpose of their being shot". The Act also stipulates conditions about permission and the welfare of both the dog and the fox. This is sometimes referred to as "the gamekeeper's exemption", although the Act does not specify that the exemption only applies to gamekeepers.
TopDo foxes have any natural predators?
Yes: in Britain, cubs are killed by golden eagles and badgers, and elsewhere by several other predators. In Europe and America adult foxes are occasionally killed by wolves, coyotes, bears, and various other predators. However, the number killed is generally low and, other than coyotes, is not believed to have an impact on fox numbers.
TopIs there a close season for foxes in Britain?
No: many countries either ban the killing of foxes when they are breeding (a welfare provision, to prevent orphaned cubs being left to starve), or require that the cubs have to be killed before the adults. Strangely, for a country that prides itself on its animal welfare standards, there are no such provisions for foxes in Britain.