“As cunning as a fox who’s just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University” Blackadder Goes Forth, 1989
The humble and cunning fox (Vulpes vulpes) is a common sight in towns, cities, and gardens throughout the UK. Sadly, many have come to view foxes as dangerous animals whose only thought is to kill.
While it is important to keep in mind that wild animals can be dangerous, foxes are generally quite docile. They will avoid confrontations unless provoked, threatened, or cornered. But that doesn’t mean that they can be treated like our other domesticated four-legged friends.
Despite there being a seemingly unending stream of fox horror stories they actually do very little damage to our gardens. There may be signs of some digging, a pungent smell, and a bin on its side with trash spread across the lawn. In most cases though, foxes will run from people and household pets instead of savagely attacking. Even garden pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs are safe as long as the hutch is well-built and secured. Foxes may be cunning, but they also know when to give up if the effort outweighs the reward.
Reasons why foxes make it into your garden
Foxes are intelligent animals. They have been able to continuously adapt to our ever-changing landscape and are just as happy living in a sprawling urban environment as they are in the countryside. Our gardens often create a wonderland full of interesting and tasty things which are irresistible for the ever-curious fox.
If you have spotted foxes or signs of fox activity in your garden but can’t figure out why they like your garden, check the list of some common fox attractants below:
- There is a water source. If you have a pond, fountain, or swimming pool in your garden don’t be surprised if you get some thirsty night-time visitors. Foxes, like most animals, are drawn to safe sources of water and will return time and time again.
- You feed other wildlife. If you leave food in your garden for other wildlife, such as birds or hedgehogs, you are most likely also being visited by at least one fox. Providing a wildlife-friendly environment is commendable but if you do not want foxes in your garden you should consider changing the way you feed other animals. Use specialised feeders where possible and place loose food in places which are easy to reach if you are small, like a hedgehog, but difficult to access if you are as large as a fox.
- You feed your cat or dog outside. While the smell of leftover pet food may be repulsive to us it is a difficult meal to ignore for scavengers such as foxes.
- Your garden is messy, overgrown, has a shed, or decking. Foxes are quite skittish and prefer to run and hide at the first hint of danger. Don’t be surprised to find that foxes are calling your garden home if it is overgrown, full of trash and discarded appliances. Or if you have decking or a shed with empty space underneath.
- You keep birds or other small animals in your garden. Although foxes do not kill as many animals as you may think, that does not mean that they have no interest at all in these critters. If you do keep small animals or chickens in your garden and don’t want them to be eaten, you will have to make sure that their hutches are secure and not made of flimsy materials.
- You have flowerbeds or freshly turned soil. The reason why foxes like to dig up our gardens may surprise some. Adult foxes like to dig up worms and grubs for a quick and nutritious snack. On the other hand, fox pups just like to dig for practice and for the sake of digging.
- You use natural fertilisers containing bonemeal, blood, or fish. As previously mentioned, foxes don’t need much of a reason to dig up your garden. However, using any of the fertilisers mentioned above is a guaranteed method of attracting foxes to your garden.
- You routinely leave gardening tools, wellingtons, shoes, or toys outside overnight. Leaving items such as shoes and children’s toys in the garden overnight may save you a few minutes in the evening but it will attract foxes, especially cubs. Pups view our discarded garden belongings as chew toys or the perfect thing to practice hunting on, whereas adult foxes mostly defecate on them to mark their territory. No-one wants to put their wellingtons on only to step in fox poop, tidy your garden up.
Symptoms of foxes in the garden
If you are unsure as to whether or not your garden is receiving nightly fox visits, these are the signs to look out for:
- A pungent, musky smell.
- A fox smell in your garden.
- Droppings in prominent places.
- Trampled plants.
- Dug up flowerbeds.
- Holes in the lawn.
- Chewed up shoes or toys.
- Half-eaten fruit (if you have fruit trees or bushes).
- Damage to fences, wire mesh, hose pipes, polythene tunnels.
- Trash was strewn across your garden.
- Your garden looking like a freshly ploughed field, foxes will dig up entire gardens if there is an abundance of beetle grubs.
What to do with foxes in your garden
As foxes are not the violent monsters they are made out to be, the best answer to the question “what to do if you have a fox in your garden?” is to learn to co-exist with the furry visitors. Doing so gives you a front-row seat to witness fox pups joyfully playing, to watch the antics of adult foxes, and your garden will be kept rodent-free.
However, it is understandable that some may not welcome such nightly visitors especially if there are young children in the home. This is not the only reason as to why you may want to keep foxes out of your garden. Constantly repairing damage and fixing your flowerbeds or filling in holes in your lawn can become frustrating.
If you find yourself asking ‘how to deter foxes from my garden?’ follow the advice below to humanely deter foxes.
- Block all entrances to your garden. Inspect the edges to find out where foxes are gaining entry and seal those points of breach.
- Gather all toys, shoes, or other loose items in your garden before the night falls.
- Cover any sources of water.
- Remove or cover any leftover pet food.
- Block any entrances to spaces beneath your home, decking, shed, or other garden structures.
- Secure hutches or cages of any small animals kept outdoors.
- Remove sources of food. Make sure that all rubbish bags are tied and placed in bins with a secure lid. If you feed other animals in your garden consider purchasing specialised feeders so that others can’t get to the treats inside.
- Use plant-based fertilisers rather than those containing blood, fish, or bonemeal.
- Place a paving stone on top of your pet burial, if you have any. This way foxes can’t dig up the corpse.
- Leave a radio playing in a shed to deter foxes and their cubs.
- Use commercial repellents, they are not harmful to foxes, your garden, or any other critter.
If all else fails, there is the option of having more sophisticated fox deterrents fitted around your property. Fox deterrent systems of this type must be installed by a professional humane deterrent company.
How to Attract Birds to Your Garden
We have prepared answers to some of the most common questions about having foxes in the garden. If you would like to welcome these little furry critters into your garden but have some concerns, keep reading.
Should you feed foxes and what should you feed them?
There is very little harm in feeding the foxes in your garden as long as you do it sensibly. Don’t give them large amounts of food and clear away any leftovers. Giving large amounts of food to wild animals does not tame them. All it does is reduce the fear they have of humans. This leads them to get close to people with the expectation of food which may be troubling for those not confident around animals. Make sure to dispose of any uneaten food – if you don’t, you may end up attracting less wholesome pests, such as rats.
As for what to feed foxes, they are mainly carnivorous and tend to eat birds, rodents, small animals, worms, and beetle grubs. However, foxes are also quite partial to fruit and, in adapting to our environment, they have developed the ability to eat almost anything such as cheese, bread, vegetables, and table scraps. Foxes will eat whatever you leave for them, just keep in mind that other animals may get to the food first so try to avoid onions, garlic, chocolate, and the other foods you wouldn’t give a dog.
If foxes have been frequenting your garden you may have had the pleasure of uncovering a small animal corpse while gardening. Don’t worry – the foxes aren’t ‘sending a message’, foxes store food in caches throughout their territory so that they have an alternative food source should it be needed.
However, you should also be familiar with the saying “a fed animal is a dead animal”. When it comes to feeding wildlife, they become dependant on this food source. And if they become accommodated with humans, it will likely pose a threat to their survival in the future, especially if meeting people who will be not-so-friendly towards them. Your best course of action, if you want to host these furry tenants in your garden, is try and recreate natural wildlife conditions for them.
NEVER try to hand-feed a fox, while it is unlikely to bite you it is still a wild animal and is unpredictable.
Mark Clark, gardening expert
One of the biggest concerns for pet owners is whether or not their beloved animal companion is safe while there is a fox prowling around. Few people are surprised to learn that foxes will run away from a dog 99% of the time, but many are shocked to learn that foxes will also run away from cats most of the time. If they get into a fight, the fox is more likely to be injured.
9 Tips for Gardening with Dogs
Stop foxes unearthing corpses
The death of a family pet can be a traumatic experience for everyone involved, but if you bury your pet in the garden and don’t take adequate precautions a more disturbing image of its corpse being unearthed may be awaiting you.
Foxes have a very keen sense of smell and regardless of how deep you bury your pet they will do their best to excavate it. It is unpleasant, but not the fault of the fox as it thinks this is just more food.
If you must bury your pet in the garden, dig a deep grave and place a paving stone on top of the body to keep burrowing foxes at bay.
The damage foxes and their cubs can do to a garden is substantial. From digging to trampling plants, their destructive capabilities know no bounds. To reduce, or stop the damage being done to your lawn and flower beds try using a commercial fox repellent in specific areas. Just know that most of the plant damage is not being done maliciously. The majority of damage comes from the joyful playing of fox cubs and it is quite difficult to stay angry at small balls of fluff.
Another way in which adult foxes can destroy your garden is by marking their territory. You may be lucky and escape with just a terrible, musky smell but then again you may also encounter fox droppings. This is a reality you will have to learn to live and deal with if you would like your garden to be fox friendly.
We receive quite a few questions about foxes, and though we encourage you to put them down in the comments below so that all of our community will be able to answer, we are going to feature some of them here.
What time of day foxes come out
You may think foxes are nightly animals and rightly so. They do tend to come out mostly at night to find food, rummage through the garden and doing their foxy things.
However, when it comes to pups, you might witness them quite often during daylight when they come out to play. There’s nothing strange about this behaviour – the fox cubs are known to do this even in the wild nature.
Do foxes like to eat vegetables from your garden?
In general, foxes are omnivores, meaning, they can eat virtually anything that is good for food. However, the main reason why they dig up plants and vegetables is not that they want to eat them, but to reach the worms beneath them. It’s also possible that you used some organic matter and bonemeal for natural fertilisers, and foxes do smell that.
My neighbour’s garden has foxes. What can I do to stop them coming over to mine?
Unfortunately, there’s very little to do when it comes to foxes in your neighbour’s garden if the aforementioned neighbour is not cooperative. They usually burrow under overgrown bushes or under a garden shed, so those two places are pretty good spots for your neighbour garden’s fox habitat. You can either arrange a garden clearance if the vegetation also spreads out in your garden, or try and kill the grubs and worms in your garden using natural pest repellents. The latter will stop the foxes digging your plants out.
So there we have it, your guide to foxes in the garden. These beautiful animals are often portrayed negatively in the media with only the most extreme and rare cases being mentioned. In reality, they are mostly docile creatures that just want somewhere safe to eat, sleep, and raise their young. So long as you take the necessary precautions you and the foxes can share the garden space and co-exist.
If you do not feel comfortable having wild animals roam your garden then we urge you to first attempt the deterrence methods listed here and if that does not work to contact a professional. Do not attempt to shoot foxes as you are more likely to only wound them. This leads to a slow death brought on by an infection. Instead of trying to ‘deal with’ a fox yourself call a professional.
Header image source: Deposit photos / leungchopan