Foxhunting: Trends in fox numbers

A view of the countryside in winter; in the foreground a tree

Until the 1990s, the only information available on fox numbers came from the National Gamebag Census, which records all animals killed annually on shooting estates. Data from game bag records showed that in the second half of the 20th century, fox numbers increased but that during the 1990s they stabilised. However, there are many limitations in using game bag records. For instance, many methods for controlling foxes have been outlawed over the years so that different killing methods are used in different years; data from different years are therefore not directly comparable. Moreover, the number of animals killed depends on the effort expended by gamekeepers on culling but this is not recorded. So these data are not reliable.

Recent trends: 1990 onwards

During 1999-2000, The Mammal Society conducted a nationwide survey using counts of fox droppings in 1-km squares across Britain to estimate fox numbers. From this survey, the total rural population of adult foxes was estimated to be 225,000. In 2001, because of the spread of foot-and-mouth disease in the Britain, hunting with dogs was banned for a whole year. In 2002, after the temporary ban had been in place, the nationwide survey was repeated on a subset of the squares surveyed in 1999-2000. This post-foot-and-mouth disease survey showed that the temporary hunting ban had not affected fox numbers. The trend across regions was of a general decline in fox numbers and there was no evidence that a ban on hunting had lead to an increase in fox numbers.

More recently, The Tracking Mammals Partnership, a monitoring programme conducted jointly by several organizations to evaluate trends in populations of British mammals, has started collecting data on fox numbers and preliminary results confirm that fox numbers appear to be stable. In the future this programme will be a useful tool to monitor mammal population trends in Britain.

References

  • Baker, P.J., Harris, S. & Webbon, C.C. (2002) Effect of British hunting ban on fox numbers. Nature 419, 34.
  • Baker, P.J., Harris, S. & Webbon, C.C. (2003) Hunting and fox numbers in the United Kingdom - a reply. Nature 423, 400.
  • 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

  • Battersby, J. (2005) UK mammals: species status and population trends. First report by the Tracking Mammals Partnership. Joint Nature Conservation Committee/ Tracking Mammals Partnership, Peterborough.
  • Tapper, S. (1992) Game heritage: an ecological review from shooting and gamekeeping records. Game Conservancy, Fordingbridge, Hampshire.