GARY SHEEN shuns a demand for a cull of foxes.

SOMETHING terrible happened in East London. It was all over the media.

A story of twins and an alleged attack by a fox. In a knee-jerk reaction, London mayor Boris Johnson was calling for a cull of these animals.

Something terrible happened in Cumbria. People were murdered in the street. The Prime Minister said there should be no knee-jerk reaction to that. No plans to tighten gun laws.

So ask yourself…which is the bigger threat?

However tragic and unfortunate the alleged attack on the nine-month-old twins, does it really warrant the destruction of thousands of foxes, when there appears to be no solid grounds to blame the animal?

There have been no previous substantiated attacks on people in the UK by foxes. All suspected incidents have turned out to be attacks by other animals, including cats and dogs.

John Bryant, an urban wildlife expert, said: “Foxes are among the most amenable, least aggressive mammals you could share your environment with.”

In the wake of this incident, people are falling into two camps, those against a cull and those in favour. Letters in the Echo show feelings running high, regardless of the point of view.

Some Canvey residents are calling for a cull, claiming the island is all but over-run with foxes.

However, this seems to be about the inconvenience foxes may cause, through the belief they rip open rubbish bags and have the occasional saunter through someone’s lounge, rather than any real fear of being attacked.

The term “culling” is a euphemism. It is killing. And killing urban foxes in an attempt to control their numbers would have totally the opposite effect. If the mortality rate goes up, foxes compensate by increasing the number of female foxes which breed.

Whether some like it or not, urban foxes are part of our landscape and have been since the Thirties, when land was cheap and large areas of semi-detached suburbs were built.

This low-density housing, with relatively large gardens, provided an ideal habitat for foxes, which had lost part of their rural home range.

Their rural environment continues to be taken away from them at an alarming rate. Is there any wonder they have to move nearer to us?

There are quite a few myths attached to our urban fox.

Contrary to popular belief, urban fox populations are stable in most areas. They regulate their own numbers and a large proportion of them do not breed every year, and those that do have quite small litters.

Foxes killing cats is a rare occurrence, with your cat far more likely to stray, be run over by a car or die from other causes.

Cats and foxes will usually ignore each other. Feeding foxes in your garden does not encourage more of them to be your neighbours.

Some people derive a lot of pleasure from feeding foxes and, as long as there is no attempt to tame them, no harm is done.

Disease-ridden they are not and pose no more of a risk to humans than your average canine or feline companion. And foxes are not vermin, despite a certain Canvey councillor referring to them as such in the Echo recently. Wildlife laws protect them, with fines of up to £5,000 for harming them.

In the 25 years I have lived in Leigh, I have only once had a rubbish bag ripped open, and the culprit turned out to be a neighbour’s cat, not Mr Fox. If this is a problem for some people, they should put their rubbish out in the morning, rather than at night. Can you blame any animal for foraging if you leave tasty morsels in your rubbish sacks?

We should be celebrating the fact that we still have some wildlife left in our towns and cities. It never ceases to amaze me that whenever a wild animal, whether fox, badger, pigeon, mouse or snail, causes any inconvenience to someone, there is a cry of “kill it”, “cull it” or “get rid of it”.

Our urban landscapes can be barren enough without any attempt to make them an even more sterile environment, devoid of all non-human life, by decimating what wildlife we have left.

* For more advice and information contact the 24-hour Fox Project Helpline on 01892 826222.