Interview: Mark Evans on 'Foxes Live: Wild in the City'
Gabriel Tate discovers how to take part in C4's live, interactive study of urban foxes
It sounds like an urban ‘Springwatch Live’.
‘The BBC does great natural history, but we’re interested in the relationship between humans and wildlife. For such a familiar animal, we know very little about fox numbers or behaviour. Although people are seeing them more, I’m not convinced they’re growing in number – they may just be getting bolder. Being an urban fox is a tough life, and I really do admire its ability to adapt to unnatural environments.’
What will you be asking people to contribute?
‘We want their experiences of and opinions on foxes, as well as any sightings, and any photos and videos uploaded to the website. Then we’ll use it to plot an interactive map and feed the information through to experts at Brighton University.’
Why has it been more than 30 years since the last major study of urban foxes?
‘Funding. Who’s interested in doing proper science on foxes? But the government is now interested, because foxes could act as a reservoir of disease. Britain is free of rabies but, if it did return, the government would want to know where these potential carriers are. There’s a natural balance that tends to be struck through disease, though: when populations increase, there’s competition for resources, so foxes have to travel further for food and disease transmission between them rises.’
Quite apart from the issue of disease, urban foxes get a pretty bad press for being aggressive.
‘Well, people have to be careful. We’ll look at humane methods of fox control, but equally – if you want to interact with them – avoid feeding them or touching them. The joy of urban foxes comes in watching them. Feeding them affects individual foxes, but also the evolution of the species. By encouraging bolder foxes, they may be more successful in breeding as a result of that, and we may end up with foxes being more likely to interact with people where they aren’t welcome.’
They’re an incredibly divisive beast.
‘Absolutely. Some would happily shoot them, others would happily stand in front of the gun. It becomes personal when foxes invade your space. I’ve interviewed a woman who saw a fox maul her chihuahua. I don’t doubt what she says, but the dog is feisty and territorial, so equally I have no doubt the chihuahua started it. That kind of perspective is so important in understanding fox behaviour.’
Some councils are considering culling or eradication programmes. Is there a point at which you’d advocate a cull?
‘I try to keep an open mind, but any decisions ought to be evidence-based. One thing I’ve found while filming natural history programmes for C4 is how much of it is about human-animal conflict. We live in a shrinking world and have to share that space. In Cape Town, the human-baboon conflict has got completely out of hand because it hasn’t been planned for: some people are feeding them, others are trying to kill them. It’s the same dynamic with foxes here. Foxes aren’t going to go away, and why should they? There’s more to this world than us.’
‘Foxes Live: Wild in the City’, starts Mon, 8pm, C4. For more information, go to www.channel4.com/foxes. Follow Mark Evans on Twitter: @markevanstv