The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is a highly adaptable species. It is found in nearly all habitats from salt marshes and sand dunes to the tops of mountains. In Britain, more than elsewhere in Europe, foxes have also adapted to life in urban surroundings.
Foxes hold territories, the size of which depends on habitat; they can be as small as 0.2 square kilometres in urban areas or up to 40 square kilometres in hill country. Each territory is occupied by a family group. These often consist of a pair, a dog fox and vixen and their cubs. However, in areas where foxes are not persecuted and where there is a plentiful supply of food, a family group may contain several adults.
They have a very wide and varied diet. On salt marshes they eat crabs and dead seabirds, while in upland regions carrion is important, particularly during the winter months. In lowland rural areas small mammals, especially field voles and rabbits, are the major source of food, with earthworms, beetles, fruit (particularly blackberries) and small birds also being eaten. Urban foxes glean large amounts of food. Much of this is deliberately supplied by local householders and is supplemented by scavenging from dustbins, birdtables and compost heaps. Unlike rural foxes, those living in some urban areas eat many small birds and feral pigeons.
Usually only one vixen in a group produces cubs, once a year in the spring. Litters average four to five cubs which are born blind and deaf in a den (called an earth). The earth may be dug by the foxes, or they may enlarge a rabbit burrow or use holes made by other animals. In urban areas cubs are often born under garden sheds. A vixen stays in the earth with her cubs for the first two weeks of their lives. At about four weeks old, usually in late April or early May, cubs begin to come into the open, when they are often seen by city householders. Foxes generally do not live very long; although they have been recorded up to nine years old in the wild, most survive only one or two years.
Foxes have little legal protection. In some areas they are subjected to much prejudiced persecution including shooting, hunting, being snared, dug out with terriers and caught with lurchers. Self-locking snares and gin traps, both of which were once used to catch foxes, have fortunately been outlawed. Free running snares are still currently legal (2013). This so called ‘humanitarian’ provision is the sole protection received by foxes. Despite their lack of protection foxes are widespread and abundant. The success of the fox is due to its adaptability and it is fortunately in no need of active conservation measures.