Fox cull calls: Appeal for restraint

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CONSERVATIONISTS have urged authorities not to take the extreme measure of culling urban foxes in Edinburgh, arguing that a “knee-jerk reaction” will not solve the problem.

Fears over the increasingly bold behaviour of foxes were voiced this week as the Scottish Wildlife Trust conceded that numbers of the wild animals could now run into the thousands across the Lothians.

Lyn Blackhall. Picture Ian Rutherford

Lyn Blackhall. Picture Ian Rutherford

Craigentinny/Duddingston councillor Alex Lunn was among city leaders to concede a cull was required amid reports of foxes scavenging in rubbish bins, attacking family pets and even defecating inside people’s houses.

This came after London Mayor Boris Johnson said the “growing menace” of urban foxes needed to be addressed, floating the prospect of a cull in the wake of a four-week-old baby suffering hand and facial injuries in a fox attack last week in the city’s south-east.

However, award-winning wildlife photographer Pat McKerrow, who lives in Warriston near the Water of Leith, yesterday called for restraint.

The avid nature enthusiast, who spent much of last spring capturing images of a family of foxes near her home, said: “I’ve been in close proximity when they’ve been at their most wary and vulnerable, especially with their cubs.

“I also witnessed one literally dying in front of me as a result of poison. I’ve never felt in fear of attack or threatened by these animals.”

Ms McKerrow revealed she was once set upon by a pair of working dogs and stressed domestic canine attacks were far more common than those involving foxes.

Animal charity PDSA released survey results in November last year showing nearly one in three British dog owners had reported being bitten or attacked by a dog.

Ms McKerrow said: “I don’t want to trivialise the attack on the child in London or indeed any other attacks, and I wouldn’t want to be a victim myself, but I think we need to put it into context. There’s a huge amount of research that’s out already and I think we need to look at that rather than just generating fear and going down the road of a potential partial cull.

“Personally having been the victim of an attack by two dogs many years ago, I’m much more afraid of dogs that have not been properly trained than I am of being in the company of a fox.”

Readers from across the Capital have this week reported fox sightings ranging from Stenhouse to Inch Park, Wardie Bay and even Princes Street in the city’s heart.

Leith Rugby Club coach Eric Jones said a fox had stolen a player’s waterproof top during a recent training session at Academy Park.

Despite widespread sightings, Gavin Williams, owner of pest control firm Urban Wildlife Solutions, said calls for a cull to restrict numbers was a “knee jerk reaction”.

He said: “The foxes are only a problem because people have changed the foxes’ behaviour. As soon as a fox cub associates humans with food, you’re going to get a problem.”

Mr Williams attends a British urban fox conference each year. He said powers allowing councils to prosecute people feeding foxes were needed to stop bad habits. Others have backed hard-line measures such as culling.

Stenhouse resident Virginia Sweeney, 57, said parents were afraid of letting children play outside in the neighbourhood because of a nearby fox den.

Scottish SPCA Wildlife Rescue Centre manager Colin Seddon said the urban fox population was at a high level partly due to the amount of food thrown away.

But city environment convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said: “Let’s put the issue of foxes in perspective – only nine inquiries regarding foxes have been made to the council since April 2012, compared to 12 the previous year. These are not high numbers.”

‘It’d been around the flat spraying’

PROPERTY agent Lyn Blackhall thought her husband was drunk when he called to tell her there was a fox sunning itself on the windowsill of their Newington home.

The 58-year-old had washed the kitchen floor on a Saturday morning in July last year, leaving the door open for the surface to dry.

She later went out with the dog, none the wiser that a fox had snuck in through the open entrance.

Mrs Blackhall said: “My husband said ‘there’s a fox sitting in our bedroom window lying in the sun’.

“I said ‘have you been in the pub?’ I thought it was a wind-up.

“I came home and I could smell it. It’d been around the flat spraying and pooping, it was disgusting.

“When it saw my husband coming it shot under our bed.”

The couple phoned the police and then the Scottish SPCA.

Mrs Blackhall said: “This woman on the SPCA helpline told me to bang pots and pans. It was something like a comedy show – one of us standing on the blanket box, one of us standing on the bed trying to frighten this fox out.”

An SPCA inspector was eventually sent out to capture the fox before releasing it into the garden.

“It was the most horrible, vicious looking thing,” Mrs Blackhall said.

“I actually took a picture of it coming out from under our bed.

“I put it on Facebook and they [neighbours and friends] all thought it was hysterically funny, but it wasn’t.”

‘It’s a bit spine-chilling’

MEADOWBANK resident Paul Reoch has put a surge in fox numbers near his home down to being in the midst of mating season.

The annual mating season for foxes in Britain traditionally runs from January to April.

Mr Reoch, 50, said: “Lately they’ve become more and more prevalent. The thing we’re worried about is that we’ve got quite a young dog and there’s a lot of young kids in the area. The foxes do seem to be on the prowl.

“I saw the adult fox two weeks ago.

“I heard this horrendous screeching sound. It is a bit spine-chilling.”