Foxhunting: Foxes in Britain

A fox in the snow
Fox in winter coat

Foxes are widespread throughout mainland Britain and are present on four islands: Anglesey, Harris, Isle of Wight, and Skye.

Obviously, it is often not possible to physically count all foxes in a region so researchers utilise different, direct or indirect, methods to estimate the number of animals present. Direct methods are based on counting the animal whilst indirect methods are based on counting the signs that an animal leaves in its environment. In the case of foxes, these estimates aim to assess the number of adult animals in a population before breeding takes place because the number of offspring varies between years.

There are several estimates of the number of adult foxes in Britain. Most have assessed the size of the rural population and we know less about the number of urban foxes since numbers were reduced by sarcoptic mange.

Rural fox numbers

Early estimates of fox numbers, based on subjective estimates and on known densities from a few locations, varied between 240,000-252,000 adult foxes.

In 1999-2000, The Mammal Society organized the first national survey on fox numbers in Britain. This survey used counts of fox faeces to estimate fox numbers in 444 1-kilometre squares in different landscapes across Britain. From these counts researchers estimated that fox density varied between 0.21-2.23 foxes/km2 and that the total rural population was 225,000 adult foxes.

Total number of British foxes

If we add the number of 225,000 rural foxes to the number of 33,000 urban foxes, we obtain an estimate of 258,000 adult foxes across Britain.

References

  • Baker, P., Harris, S. & White, P.C.L. (2006) After the hunt - the future for foxes in Britain. International Fund for Animal Welfare, London.

Download After the hunt. (PDF file, 1.7 Mb). Available with permission from IFAW

  • Harris, S., Morris, P., Wray, S. & Yalden, D. (1995) A review of British mammals: population estimates and conservation status of British mammals other than cetaceans. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.
  • Macdonald, D.W., Bunce, R.G.H. & Bacon, P.J. (1981) Fox populations, habitat characterization and rabies control. Journal of Biogeography 8, 145-151.
  • Webbon, C.C., Baker, P.J. & Harris, S. (2004) Faecal density counts for monitoring changes in red fox (Vulpes vulpes) numbers in rural Britain. Journal of Applied Ecology 41, 768-779.