People take a range of views of the red fox, especially when it is seen or heard in their neighbourhood. Some regard them as vermin and seek to destroy any evidence of their presence whilst others regard them as though pets and feed them frequently. For most people, foxes in SE16 are tolerated as a usual sight on moving through the quieter parts of the neighbourhood. Whilst foxes themselves are pretty harmless – despite the occasional sensationalist coverage – they bring out some strong reactions, both of love and loathing. Understanding foxes can help us to take a more balanced view, seeing them indeed as wild animals yet also not as the fearsome threat some imagine.
The red fox (vulpes vulpes) is a canid along with wolves, coyotes, arctic foxes and the domestic dog. Whilst they are all carnivores, they also adapt their diet to the opportunities available. This is why it has been easy for the fox to settle in urban environments. The coat of the fox is reddish with the front of the legs and back of the ears black and the front bib and belly grey to white in colour. The adults are about the size of a domestic cat; males weigh about 4-8kg and females about 4-6kg. The male or dog-fox body is about 70cm with the female or vixen measuring about 65cm; the brush or tail is about another 40cm long. British foxes are generally quite small compared to their continental cousins. Foxes in captivity can reach 14 years but in London about half are just a year old and only 3% reach 5 years.
Whilst we tend to see foxes as solitary figures caught under the street lights, in fact they live mostly in monogamous breeding pairs with some helper subordinates in attendance. The pattern is for single foxes to hunt and feed independently but to return to the pair relationship for play, grooming and reproduction. Foxes establish a territory by scent marking and will defend it with aggresion against strangers. As we enter autumn, fox cubs are being encouraged to fend for themselves and disperse, seeking out new territories in the surrounding area. Foxes will finally finish their moult in Autumn bringing their coats to their finest in early Winter, ready for the mating season.
In Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, foxes have become an established part of our wildlife, feeding on scraps left unsecured in bins or dropped as litter. They are of course also willing to tackle small or injured prey and to scavenge from carcasses of birds and small mammals. With spaces for dens available in abundance beneath heavy undergrowth, in old pipework or under decking or out buildings, the population estimates for SE16 is necessarily uncertain. However as the winter advances, we are likely to hear their mating cries particularly at night as they are mostly nocturnal, sleeping up during the day. Whether you love or hate them, the red fox is a successful part of our local fauna and will stay around in everyone’s patch for the foreseeable future.