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PLoS One. 2014 Jun 11;9(6):e99059. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099059. eCollection 2014.

Changes in the distribution of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in urban areas in Great Britain: findings and limitations of a media-driven nationwide survey.

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Biology and Biomedical Sciences Division, University of Brighton, Brighton, East Sussex, United Kingdom.
National Wildlife Management Centre, Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, York, Yorkshire, United Kingdom.
Windfall Films, London, United Kingdom.
School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom.


Urbanization is one of the major forms of habitat alteration occurring at the present time. Although this is typically deleterious to biodiversity, some species flourish within these human-modified landscapes, potentially leading to negative and/or positive interactions between people and wildlife. Hence, up-to-date assessment of urban wildlife populations is important for developing appropriate management strategies. Surveying urban wildlife is limited by land partition and private ownership, rendering many common survey techniques difficult. Garnering public involvement is one solution, but this method is constrained by the inherent biases of non-standardised survey effort associated with voluntary participation. We used a television-led media approach to solicit national participation in an online sightings survey to investigate changes in the distribution of urban foxes in Great Britain and to explore relationships between urban features and fox occurrence and sightings density. Our results show that media-based approaches can generate a large national database on the current distribution of a recognisable species. Fox distribution in England and Wales has changed markedly within the last 25 years, with sightings submitted from 91% of urban areas previously predicted to support few or no foxes. Data were highly skewed with 90% of urban areas having <30 fox sightings per 1000 people km(-2). The extent of total urban area was the only variable with a significant impact on both fox occurrence and sightings density in urban areas; longitude and percentage of public green urban space were respectively, significantly positively and negatively associated with sightings density only. Latitude, and distance to nearest neighbouring conurbation had no impact on either occurrence or sightings density. Given the limitations associated with this method, further investigations are needed to determine the association between sightings density and actual fox density, and variability of fox density within and between urban areas in Britain.

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