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Urban foxes dumped to die in country

SQUEAMISH CITY dwellers who are unwilling to see animals killed are being blamed for an alleged epidemic of "fox dumping" in the countryside.

Country dwellers are complaining of mange-infested town foxes being released into fields at night by pest control companies and say that the animals, which do not make good sport for hunters, are spreading disease among their rural cousins and endangering livestock. Many of the foxes are so disoriented that they starve, unable to fend for themselves.

The Union of Country Sports Workers (UCSW), a pro-hunting union which represents gamekeepers and other rural employees, is conducting a survey to find out how widespread the problem of fox dumping has become. "We have had lots of anecdotal evidence of people saying they have seen 40 foxes in the back of a van," said Lindsay Hill, a spokesman. "We have launched this survey to get people to send in evidence."

Evidence already in, says the UCSW, includes a statement from a member in East Anglia who intercepted a vanload of foxes which had been driven from Bristol to be dumped. A gamekeeper from Yorkshire claimed to have seen 50 city foxes unloaded on his employer’s estate. He shot 14 before running out of ammunition. Another described how he rustled plastic bags to imitate urban bin-liners and lured the city foxes into the open before shooting them.

There are estimated to be about 250,000 foxes in Britain, about 50,000 of which live in cities. They have been blamed for scattering the contents of dustbins, undermining garden sheds, vandalising cars and even attacking children and pets. In many urban areas fox populations are growing at about 20% per year.

Despite strong opposition to foxhunting in these areas, thousands of foxes are being shot or trapped each year in city streets and gardens as residents lose patience with the animals. But because the urban householders prefer to see foxes trapped and moved rather than killed, many of the animals are said to be dumped in the countryside.

"Some clients specifically ask for relocation as they don’t want the death on their conscience," said Bruce Lindsay-Smith of County Pest Control Services, a Surrey-based firm.

Nobody cares

"I deplore the practice of putting them in the countryside because they can’t fend for themselves and just starve. Normally we find a wooded area in inner London where the gardens are overgrown and nobody really cares."

Many foxes, however, are so diseased that they have to be dispatched, using a silenced pistol, as soon as they are trapped. The most common method for trapping foxes is to put bait — such as lamb chops or rabbit — inside a metal cage. When the fox pulls out the meat, the door snaps shut.

Farmers and gamekeepers are increasingly noticing animals that have been dumped. "There’s this man that goes round dumping foxes near us," said Derek Morgan, who runs a sheep farm near Llangurig, Montgomeryshire.

"Our local hunt finds that the wild foxes are pretty cunning and give them a good run, but these ones just stand there and don’t know what to do."

However, some experts believe the problem of fox dumping is being exaggerated by pro-hunting activists to stoke up anti-fox feelings. "For years we have had a standing reward of £1,000 for anyone who can produce evidence of mass release of urban foxes in the countryside and it has never been claimed," said Trevor Williams, director of the Fox Project, a sanctuary in Tonbridge, Kent. "These claims are a way for the hunting fraternity to increase support for hunting. It just doesn’t make sense. Where would all the foxes be housed before they were released?"

Last year Lord Newby, a Liberal Democrat peer, called on the government to make councils deal with foxes. Although local authorities are obliged to deal with rats and other vermin, foxes are the responsibility of householders.

Lynda Soper, owner of the Woodside cattery in Merstham, Surrey, said she had lost three of her nine chihuahua dogs in a fox attack. One was never seen again and the other two were so badly injured that they died. "Baba, the little one who used to sleep in the bed with us, was almost dead when we found her," said Soper. "The fox just stood there looking at us."