Are urban foxes on the rise in Norwich?

They are a familiar presence in many parts of Norwich, strutting nonchalantly across roads, leaping over fences and making their homes under garden sheds.

While many people think of them as countryside-dwellers, foxes have shown they are just as comfortable living alongside humans in the city.

The urban fox hit the headlines in June when nine-month-old twins Isabella and Lola Koupparis were mauled in their cots in Hackney, London, reportedly by a fox. Both girls were badly injured and needed hospital treatment.

Urban foxes can be found all over Norwich and its suburbs. Sightings have been reported in Ipswich Road, Heigham Park, The Avenues, Earlham Road, Grapes Hill, Newmarket Road, Branksome Road, College Road, Recreation Road, Unthank Road, Chapelfield Gardens, the North City area; and Thorpe St Andrew, Costessey, and North Walsham Road and White Woman Lane in Sprowston, to name just a few locations.

The animals can even be seen in the city centre late at night. Julian Foster, chairman of Central Norwich Citizens' Forum, said: 'I've certainly seen foxes right in the heart of the city. That's where they thrive because there's so much waste food for them.

'There's so much ready food available in the bins at the back of Prince of Wales Road. People drop food all over the place and particularly late at night when they pick up pizzas and kebabs. Foxes are very astute in finding food like that and very happy to accept it as a gift.'

He said he had also been told about foxes in The Close, but that people did not seem to mind them. 'I hear so many complaints about other things I'm sure if people felt strongly they would complain about it,' he said.

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'I personally have no problem with them. I'm not aware of any nuisance. I'm hearing increasing numbers of people who have seen foxes. Most people are sympathetic and say they like to see them.'

Mr Foster said he had even heard of people buying cat and dog food specifically to feed foxes.

Numbers of foxes in the UK vary dramatically through the year, from about 250,000 in winter to 600,000 in late spring after cubs are born. According to the Mammal Group at the University of Bristol, the country's foremost experts, 13 per cent of the British population lives in urban areas.

In a survey, 65.7pc of people said they liked urban foxes, 25.8pc said they had no strong views and only 8.5pc said they disliked them.

The Mammal Group's advice is that it is fine to feed foxes, but that they should never be hand-fed or over-fed to avoid them becoming reliant on humans.

Trevor Williams, director of The Fox Project, said the phenomenon of urban foxes began in the 1930s when cities started to expand rapidly into the countryside, and foxes found the long roads and large gardens of the suburbs provided an ideal environment for them.

'It's more a case of us moving into the foxes' territory than them moving into ours. They discovered they could live side-by-side with us,' he said.

Foxes are not classed as vermin and local authorities will not deal with them. People reporting problems with foxes to their council are typically referred to The Fox Project for advice on deterrence, and the charity has had calls from Norwich and Norfolk.

Mr Williams said he did not believe that a fox had been responsible for the Hackney attack, and that a dog was a far more likely culprit.

Wildlife consultant John Bryant acknowledges that many people like foxes, but is routinely asked for advice on deterring the animals. 'The first thing to ask is 'Is it really a problem? If it's digging up your lawn and messing on your patio then it's a problem,' he said.

'Those are simple things to deal with. You can get a degree of success by using cat and dog repellents available from any garden centre.'

Foxes occasionally eat pets and other animals, so it is essential they are securely housed. They have been known to kill cats, but this is rare.

A pair of adult foxes typically has a territory of 60-80 acres (24 to 32 hectares) and will keep all other adults out of the area.

'This is where conventional pest control - killing things - doesn't work. Within three days, neighbouring foxes will move in and take over that territory,' he said.

'The key is to use the foxes you have got to keep other foxes out of your area and educate them so they don't cause you problems. If foxes learn that if they come into your garden they will get hassle, they will keep away.'

According to Mr Bryant - who says he is keeping an open mind on the Hackney attack - the four most attractive things in a garden to foxes are ponds, open compost areas, fallen fruit and bird feeders. 'If you have those things, it is likely they will visit every day, usually in the night.

'Most fox cubs are born under garden sheds so now is the time to have a look round your garden. Go out once every weekend and have a look at the back of your shed or summerhouse and make sure there are no signs of digging and marking.'

For many of us, though, the glimpse of a fox crossing the road ahead of us as we make our way home, or even in our gardens, will remain a magical moment.

<t> Do you like to see foxes in your garden? Are they are a wildlife spectacle, or a pest? Write to Letters, Evening News, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email, including a full postal address and telephone number.