Monitoring Rural Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) Populations November 1998 to October 20001

By Charlotte Webbon

Foxes are a familiar inhabitant of the British countryside, but very little is actually known about even the most basic aspects of the ecology of rural foxes in this country. For example, it is not known how many foxes are there and how are they distributed across Britain. There is also a lack of information about their diet and the impact predation by foxes may have on species of agricultural and conservation interest.

Foxes are thought to be increasing in numbers (although even this is uncertain in many areas) and they may potentially have a huge ecological impact.

To address this need for more information on the red fox in rural Britain we have just begun a two-year national study, one of the most important aspects of which is The National Fox Survey.

The National Fox Survey

The survey is being conducted in association with The Mammal Society and BBC Wildlife and will take place during February-March 1999 and 2000.

The aims of The National Fox Survey are:
to determine the current size and distribution of the fox population and to compare this distribution with patterns of land use, and to determine the diet of foxes in different areas of Great Britain.

The basic premise of the survey is to use counts of fox droppings (scats) to determine how many foxes there are in Britain on a regional basis. The survey relies upon the help of volunteers, who are asked to walk all the linear features (e.g. hedgerows, footpaths) within a 1-km square collecting and recording the position of all the fox scats they find. The square is walked twice within a two to four week period, so that the number of scats produced in that area during a given time is known. The volunteers are also asked to record some basic habitat data. The scats collected will be used to calculate the nwnber of foxes within that square, and they will be analysed to determine the diet of the foxes.

The survey will provide a baseline estimate of the fox population in rural Britain, allowing future surveys to investigate any changes in fox abundance.

We are also conducting a number of other studies alongside the National Fox Survey, the results of which will be important in helping us to use the data from the survey to calculate the absolute number of foxes in Britain.

Feeding trials

To convert the number of scats found within the 1-km square to the number of foxes presentwe need to determine how many scats are likely to be produced per fox for a 'Yen diet, hence 91 the need for survey volunteers to collect the scats that they find. This will be done by conducting a series of feeding trials on captive foxes, feeding them with a variety of food types which would be available to them in the wild, and determining how food affects scat deposition rate.

The National Fox Survey update after February-March survey 1999

Although the fox is one of the most familiar mammals in the British countryside, surprisingly little is known about fox populations. The National Fox Survey is part of a three year study being conducted by researchers at Bristol University to find out more about their distribution, diet and ecology.

The first stage of the survey, which is being run in association with The Mammal Society and BBC Wildlife Magazine, took place during February and March this year. Over 220 squares were surveyed with the help of volunteers from across Britain After this year's success, the second phase of the survey will be taking place during February and March 2000, and volunteers are still needed to help with this important piece of research.

The survey simply involves walking the linear features ( hedgerows, fences etc.) within a 1-km square on two occasions between February 1st and March 15th, collecting and recording the position of all fox seats found- This information will then be used to calculate the number of foxes within that square, and the scats will be analysed to determine the composition of the diet.

Volunteers are also needed to help with regular collection of scats and collection of fox carcasses. We would also like to hear from people feeding wild rural foxes who would be willing to take part in bait-marking trials.

If you would like to help with any of these projects, or would like more information, please contact Charlotte Webbon at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, Woodland Road, Bristol, BS8 I UG, or email

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