Sutton Council is at the centre of a wildlife row after its website encouraged residents to feed urban foxes.

Residents and animal welfare organisations have been angered by guidelines on the council site that declares “There is absolutely no reason why you should not feed them.”

Many see the red fox as a pest – some even say they are vermin.

On the website, the council’s guidelines have evoked passionate but mixed responses from residents.

One blogger, ‘Claire’ said: “I always find it irritating when humans, who do more damage to the environment than any other animal that has ever existed on this planet, get so irritated at the proximity of wildlife (which, let's face it, was present long before human habitation came to Worcester Park).”

One anonymous blogger complained that fox fouling causes them concern for their child’s health. They said: “When you have to check your garden lawn before letting your toddlers out to play, it is more than just a problem.

“What irritates me is when people play the environment and third world cards in a simple debate about feeding foxes in Surrey.”

The Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs on its website states: “Given the opportunity, foxes will kill small domestic pets and livestock such as rabbits, guinea pigs, ducks and chickens. Unlike many predators, foxes have the habit of killing more than they need to eat immediately. They may subsequently return for any uneaten corpses.”

The adaptable nature of the red fox has made it a very successful resident of many British towns. Although people often enjoy seeing foxes around their homes or in parkland, foxes can cause significant damage and nuisance.

Foxes have only limited protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 but are protected from abuse and ill-treatment by the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996.

Councillor Colin Hall, executive member for the environment on Sutton Council denied the website encouraged feeding of foxes.

He said: “There is no law against doing so and we appreciate that while some people think foxes are vermin, others welcome them in urban areas.

“However, we will be reviewing the information on the council website to give clearer guidance on the issues around feeding foxes.”

The argument for
John Robins, Animal Concern
“We do not see any problem with people feeding foxes, if people want to do it in their street, it is up to them. Foxes are scared of humans and they do not pose a threat to anyone.

When the fox numbers decrease, there is a substantial increase in the rat and mice population, so foxes are good for pest control.

They have been in urban areas for decades now, so like it or lump it they are part of the urban scenery.

We are encroaching more on their land with new builds and rural developments, so it is just a fact of life that they are coming into urban areas in search of food.”

Klare Kennett, RSPCA
“We certainly would not encourage people to feed foxes.

Although some like seeing them in their gardens, that number is vastly outweighed by those who do not want them near their family homes. Some may want to cause them harm either by attacking them or putting out poison. Foxes will learn to trust people more if they are not harmed by them, which increases the risk to them.

Foxes can cause a real mess in a neighbourhood and carry disease.”

Fact file
• The urban red fox is the same species as the country fox.

• Urban foxes have become so successful that some estimates put the population in London at as many as 28 foxes per square mile.

• It is estimated that more than 30,000 foxes have moved into urban areas – one was even spotted in Downing Street.

• In towns about one third of their diet consists of food they have scavenged, mainly from our rubbish. The balance is made up of rats, mice, feral pigeons, rabbits and other small animals that they have hunted.

• During the 1990s a parasitic disease called sarcoptic mange spread across most of mainland Britain, causing declines in both rural and urban foxes.

• What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.