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Urban foxes: Westminster admits 'limited powers' to control numbers despite safety fears

PUBLISHED: 17:19 14 February 2013 | UPDATED: 17:19 14 February 2013

Urban foxes are no longer afraid of humans, sparking fears of further attacks. Picture: PA

Urban foxes are no longer afraid of humans, sparking fears of further attacks. Picture: PA

PA Wire/Press Association Images

The head of community safety in Westminster has urged people to take "practical steps" to deter foxes from their homes after a baby was attacked and seriously injured last week.

Cllr Nickie Aiken says Westminster has 'limited powers' in relation to fox control.Cllr Nickie Aiken says Westminster has 'limited powers' in relation to fox control.

Experts have warned against a cull of the animals in cities, and claimed the problem of foxes creeping into urban homes is one created by humans.

Surgeons had to reattach one of Denny Dolan’s fingers after a fox entered a house near Bromley, south east London, last week and dragged him from his cot.

The incident follows a promise last year by Kit Malthouse, Marylebone resident and City Hall’s Deputy Mayor for business and enterprise, that he would “look closely” at the issue “to see if anything can be done”.

He said urban foxes were a major concern for Westminster residents during his re-election campaign. He said at the time: “People are afraid to let their small children play outside because of them. They are more and more worried about the number of foxes as numbers continue to grow.”

Karen Buck MP: 'Vital' that Mayor and council agree on a plan. Picture: Nigel SuttonKaren Buck MP: 'Vital' that Mayor and council agree on a plan. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Paddington Green resident Vicki Yerby, who has lived in the area all her life, said foxes are no longer afraid of humans, and has warned her pregnant daughter not to leave the baby alone in the garden.

She said:” When I had children we would just leave them in the back garden in the fresh air and had no concerns. Now the foxes have bred so much that it is dangerous to do that.”

This week London Mayor Boris Johnson admitted urban foxes are “a growing problem” but laid responsibility for tackling it squarely at the feet of local councils.

He said: “Pest control falls to them. Attacks like that on this little boy thankfully are rare but foxes are a growing menace.

“Borough leaders need to look carefully at the facts and work together to respond.”

Cllr Nickie Aiken, Westminster Council’s cabinet member responsible for community protection, said: “As the Mayor rightly says, public education is a good place to start. For instance, feeding foxes, as some people do, or allowing them easy access to domestic rubbish, is far from neighbourly.

“Foxes are not in fact officially designated as pests, so councils have limited powers of enforcement, especially if the animals are living on private property. We receive only a small number of calls each year from people who regard them as a nuisance or a danger.

“Our standard guidance is to urge homeowners to make gardens and the outside of their homes less attractive to foxes by keeping bins closed and ensuring there is no readily available food source, for example scraps. Heavily overgrown areas or outbuildings that might house dens can also be cut back or secured.

“We are of course ready to work with the Mayor on this issue and will always respond to calls from the public.”

Karen Buck, Labour MP for Westminster North, added: “The vital thing is for the council and the Mayor to come to a common view on what needs to be done and stick to it.

“People are becoming increasingly anxious about urban foxes as the numbers increase and it is clear that the authorities need a strategy for identifying risk factors and taking action, both directly and through educating people about what they can do to protect themselves.”

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