The Urban Fox: Vermin or Victim?
Channel 4 is launching Foxes Live: Wild in the City, a brand new interactive natural history event carrying out the biggest ever nationwide study into urban foxes in the UK.
Using cutting edge technology, this ambitious project will assemble footage from state of the art tracking technology, camera rigs and user-generated content to give us a fox eye view of our cities. Every move will be followed with the help of CCTV cameras, GPS tags and mini fox cams that will follow the fox's movements; from the underside of garden sheds where they sleep to the industrial estates where they mate.
No one knows for sure how many foxes live in the UK or whether the population is growing. There's thought to be between 30,000 to 40,000 living in cities and between 200,000 and 250,000 living in the countryside. Some cities are thought to have as many as 27 foxes per square mile. GPS tracking will be able to provide urban fox territory sizes in different housing densities and along with the public help, Channel 4 aims to make the most comprehensive estimate of the UK urban fox population.
Channel 4 is putting the power into the hands of the viewers. Anyone who owns a smart phone is a potential wildlife photographer and can contribute to new natural history research by taking part in the largest ever urban fox census. With the last study on urban foxes carried out over 30 years ago, Channel 4 will introduce brand new wildlife research and information concluding with a public census.
There has been an increase in recent press reports of foxes attacking pets and even people. Are they becoming bolder and braver than ever? There is now an urgent need to understand how this animal lives in our cities and if they can safely co-exist alongside humans.
No other wild animal provokes such divided opinion. Foxes Live: Wild in the City will address and discuss public attitudes towards the urban fox. Experts will explore whether this mischievous metro-mammal deserves its reputation as a cunning creature of the night. They will answer live viewer concerns and address questions such as do foxes attack and more importantly, are they afraid of humans? Public opinion will be closely monitored live on air to discover whether views change once they learn more about this elusive creature.
Veterinary expert and broadcaster Mark Evans (Inside Nature's Giants) is co-presenting the series with Anita Rani (Four Rooms). He says: "Foxes are an enigma. They look like dogs.. yet they have the stealth and agility of cats. And why do they have that big bushy tail? We know so very little about what foxes get up to in our cities. Everyone's seen one. Everyone has an opinion. There are few wild animals that trigger such heated debate."
Channel 4 Commissioning Editor, Sara Ramsden says, "The exciting live event is nothing less than ‘Everything you ever wanted to know about Foxes but were afraid to ask'! We'll find out why vixens screech at night during the mating season, all about fox cub toilet habits, just why foxes leave that terrible smell in your garden, the role of the father in a fox family and just how we can learn to live in close harmony with this most beautiful wild animal."
Channel 4 Multiplatform Commissioning Editor, Kate Quilton adds, "Everyone has spotted a fox yet remarkably, so little is known about them. It's incredibly exciting to invite the public to help us find out more about this enigmatic creature. Building on the success of Hippo: Wild Feast Live, this is natural history in a new way. With the help of the audience, we can use new technologies across platforms to unlock new stories."
Live Event: Battersea Power Station
Foxes Live: Wild in the City will culminate in three live broadcasts (3 x 60 minutes) from Battersea Power Station in London and across the country. It will launch on Monday 30th April at 8pm and return the following week on Monday 7th May and Tuesday 8th May to reveal the results from the online public census.
This is the busiest time of year in a fox's calendar. Vixens give birth in March and April and at the end of April the first cubs will start to emerge from their dens. The adults will leave their dens early to gather food desperately trying to feed their hungry families.
Mark Evans and Anita Rani will be joined by experts Dr Dawn Scott, Head of Biology and Biomedical Sciences Division at University of Brighton and Dr Phil Baker, School of Biological Sciences at University of Reading. They will interpret the findings coming in from the census and explain what's happening in the dens.
As foxes take up residence in densely populated areas there is an urgent need to know if they carry diseases and what else might these creatures, that rummage in our bins, might pass on. Experts will carry out post mortems on town and country foxes supplied by pest controllers and farmers, to compare their stomach contents and assess the risk of parasites being passed onto humans.
By live trapping and poo collection, experts can find out how much country foxes differ from their city slicker cousins. What are they eating, which are biggest, who lives the longest and are they genetically different species?
Foxes Live: Wild in the City has also teamed up with the RSPCA to follow the rehabilitation and release of injured foxes to see how they cope when released back into the wild. Currently there is no real data of what happens to them but the RSPCA will be tagging them to track their progress live which will be streamed online at Channel4.com.
There will be daily 2-minute updates on Channel 4 from Tuesday 1st May to Sunday 6th May to find out the latest fox developments. The updates will include streaming from fox dens around the country and live tracking of the rehabilitation and release of injured foxes to see how they are coping when released back into the wild.
Fox dens in Manchester, Canvey Island, Esher in Surrey and Laindon in Essex have been rigged with cameras to get a sneak insight into the territory of a typical fox family.
Researchers in Brighton are putting GPS collars on foxes to track their movements and map their territories. Viewers will be able to track their progress online at Channel4.com and live during the broadcasts.
Experts have released an injured fox in Newport, Wales called Diesel. He got his name from being trapped between two diesel pipes in Newport Docks and tried to bite his way through the rubber. Diesel has been tagged and his progress will be tracked live to see how he is coping back on the streets.
Urban Fox: Love Or Hate
Foxes provoke love and hate, so we speak to those who are both for and against the culling of the species. From a 15-stone man who was recently ‘mugged' by a fox while out shopping to Natasha who woke up to find a fox had entered her bedroom and had bitten her on the foot on two different occasions.
Others sharing their stories are Ricky, the Pest Control Expert who has spent years solving other people's fox problems and has now discovered he also has foxes in his own garden and Geoff who runs a private animal rehabilitation centre and cares for a very tame fox called Roxy, who he regularly takes into town on a lead to raise money for his centre.
The series will also feature some very spoiled foxes being kept and cared for as pets. Barry lost the use of his legs in a motorbike accident and is now in a wheelchair - he has since formed a close relationship with his local foxes Floyd and Floydski where every evening he goes out to his garden to chat to them. Animal lover Steve cares so much for the welfare of his vixen Mrs Snooks, he lets her live in her very own one-bedroom flat which has a luxury double bed and TV.
How To Get Involved
The UK is home to thousands of urban foxes, so if you have spotted a fox, Channel 4 needs to know. From Thursday 19th April, simply go online to channel4.com/foxes and tell us when and where you saw the fox along with your postcode so we can map the fox population. You can then see if your home town or city is a popular destination for these wild creatures as well as being able to identify which areas are completely fox free - if any.
If you have been able to take a photo or video, upload this online and give your fox a name as it takes place in the fox photo-gallery for the nation to see and then take part in the biggest ever-nationwide fox census in association with the University of Brighton to help us discover brand new knowledge and research about natural history.
Our interactive website will have 24-hour live streaming from fox dens which have been rigged with cameras. Follow and track the exact location of rehabilitated foxes that have been GPS tagged to see what they really get up to on our streets. Each of the tagged foxes have a special story including Diesel from Newport, who got his name from being trapped between two diesel pipes in Newport Docks and tried to bite his way through the rubber.
Join The Conversation
To take part and be kept up to date on all the latest fox developments, news and pictures and to put forward your questions to Mark Evans and the experts:
Twitter: @foxeslive and use the hashtag #foxeslive