I moved to London from rural Essex around a year ago, and now savour every ounce of wildlife I come across in the Big Smoke. Having said this, I have seen far more foxes in the last 12 months than I ever did in my prior 26 years living in the countryside. So what brings the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) to a vast urban jungle like London?
Swiss research (Gloor et al, 2001) theorised that foxes present in urban areas came to be here for one of two reasons. One, the Population Pressure Hypothesis, suggests that they were forced out of rural areas due to overcrowding in their own territories. The second, the Urban Island Hypothesis, proposes that urban foxes have simply adapted to living in urban habitats and found it provides sufficient resources on which to live. With this in mind, what could have pushed these animals out of the countryside in the first place?
One theory is that the Second World War led to a decline in gamekeepers with the lack of control leading to an increase in numbers, pushing their usual rural territories further and further in to more built up areas.
In my view, however, a more plausible theory is that the introduction of myxomatosis in the 1950’s had a much more substantial effect on the fox population. Initially, dead and dying rabbits would have provided a glut of food for even the least skilled hunters. This in turn led to an explosion in fox numbers; but with the decimation of the rabbit population (estimated to be around 95% mortality in Great Britain) food resources soon ran perilously low for the, now huge, population and they were forced extend their territories in to urban areas to supplement their wild food.
Whether or not either of these theories is correct, foxes have made the most of our lifestyle changes over the last 60 or 70 years. With increased urbanisation and food becoming more and more disposable after post-war rationing, foxes capitalised on the abundance of edible delights, sating their omnivorous diets with a mixture of fruit, rodents and the tonnes of food that we discard on a daily basis. And I’m sure they enjoy a 3am doner kebab as much as the inebriated reveller from whose grip it slipped in the first place.
Furthermore, our opposing sleep patterns make a relatively free house of London for the foxes to party in until sunrise. I for one love seeing them trot lightly across my path as I walk home from an evening in the city…bushy tail gliding weightlessly behind them and eyes bright in the street lights.
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