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last updated Oct 30, 2013
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A young fox. Credit RHS/Mike Ballard.

Foxes are becoming increasingly common in urban areas where they can damage plants and cause other nuisances in gardens.

What is a fox? Back to top

The fox is a predatory mammal that feeds on birds and small mammals, as well as smaller creatures such as earthworms and insects, especially chafer grubs. They also eat fruits and scavenge food from dustbins.

Symptoms Back to top

  • Once inside a garden, foxes can cause damage by trampling plants, eating ripening fruits, digging holes or leaving droppings and food debris
  • A fox may dig up new plants, especially where bonemeal, dried blood or chicken pellet manure has been used. Foxes smell these materials and dig down in the belief that there is food below
  • Foxes also sometimes chew through plastic hosepipes and polythene tunnels
  • Dog foxes use their excrement and pungent urine as territorial markers, often leaving their droppings in prominent positions. If a garden forms the boundary between two foxes’ territories, it may be frequently marked in this way
  • Lawns that are infested with chafer grubs may be ripped up by foxes and badgers searching for the grubs during autumn to spring

Control Back to top

Non-chemical controls

  • Once foxes have become established in or near gardens it is difficult to keep them out. Standard netting or fencing is unlikely to provide an effective barrier, as foxes are able to scramble over or dig underneath
  • In the absence of effective means of excluding urban foxes, it is often a matter of tolerating their presence and dealing with the nuisances that they cause. This may mean changes to the types of plant grown, with plants that can survive or avoid trampling being chosen
  • Fertilisers other than bonemeal, dried blood or other animal-derived fertilisers should be used
  • Holes dug by foxes should be filled in promptly before they deepen, otherwise a den may be established
  • Where foxes are breeding in a den in a garden, damage will increase considerably, particularly during early summer when there may be up to five fox cubs running around in the vicinity of the den
  • Relocating urban foxes to rural areas is not recommended, as suitable habitats in the countryside are likely to be already populated with foxes, against which the town animals will struggle to compete. It is highly likely that other foxes will quickly move in and take over a garden territory that has been vacated by the removal of the resident animals

Chemical controls

  • None of the proprietary animal repellent substances currently available for garden use is likely to be effective in keeping out foxes. Proprietary repellent substances used against cats and wild animals need frequent applications to maintain their effect
  • Scaring devices that emit ultra-sonic sound may be effective in the short term but it is likely that foxes will become accustomed to the sound and will lose their fear

Biology Back to top

  • Once a countryside animal, foxes are now frequently seen in towns and cities, where they often occur at greater densities than in rural areas
  • Apart from the breeding season, foxes live mainly solitary lives 
  • Fox cubs are born in late March-April in a den dug in the earth or situated under a garden shed.  After about four weeks, the cubs are old enough to emerge from the den and begin exploring the outside world. The cubs remain with their parents until mid – late summer when they disperse 
  • Foxes live for about three or four years but many young foxes are killed by cars

Quick facts

Common name Fox
Scientific name Vulpes vulpes
Plants affected A wide range of plants can be trampled or dug up.  Ripening tree and bush fruit may be eaten
Main symptoms Fox excrement and the pungent smell of fox urine. Holes dug in the ground; chewed or 'stolen' items left in a garden; trampled plants
Most active All year round