Tame city foxes cause consternation among allotment garden people
Some residents in the allotment gardens in Helsinki’s district of Herttoniemi would like to get rid of urban foxes
By Katja Okkonen
It is all quiet before 8 a.m. in the Herttoniemi allotment garden in Helsinki.
This is good news, as the objective is to catch at least a glimpse of the city foxes that are at large in the area. Nevertheless, we are afraid that it is already too late in the morning, as the foxes are most often moving in the dusk.
The foxes have been the hottest topic in the allotment garden this summer.
In the Facebook group of the garden, people have been arguing about whether or not foxes belong to the allotment community.
It has been feared that they might attack children or pets and could spread diseases.
An inhabitant sitting on the porch of his cottage comes to show us where one can often see foxes.
At that very moment, a red animal with a handsome bushy tail is strolling to an intersection of paths about ten metres away, remaining to stare at us in peace and quiet.
A few minutes later, the fox stops to scratch its neck on the playground of the allotment garden, continuing on its merry way to the yard of a yellow cottage.
The animal does not seem to be afraid of people, nor at all camera-shy.
The foxes have raised mixed feelings in the allotment garden, Sirkka Tuorila reports.
”Some people think that foxes are part of nature - even part of the allotment garden’s nature. The owners of pets and the parents of small children do not exactly share this opinion”, she says.
According to Tuorila, the foxes’ behaviour is strange.
”There have been observations of foxes before now, but those animals have always bounded off towards the forest. These foxes belong to a new generation. When one tries to chase them away, they just go to another yard. It is impossible to scare them back to the woods”, Tuorila notes.
The foxes have caused trouble for Tuorila.
She saw them gnawing at the metal arches supporting the gauze sheeting that covers her bean and spinach beds. The plants had been broken or crushed, after the foxes had been jumping on the gauze.
”I had to remove most of them. I didn't much fancy eating spinach in which a fox had been rolling around”, Tuorila explained.
Tuorila is also concerned for her 18-month old grandchild.
”Nobody knows where the foxes’ behaviour is going to lead, as they are so terribly tame. A brown hare would belong to a lettuce bed rather than a fox, even though it would also be a damned nuisance”, Tuorila added.
Maria Normann, who is enjoying the morning sun in the yard of her cottage, has not found the foxes disturbing.
The mother of 9-month-old Alf is not afraid for her child, either, even though someone has claimed that wild animals could smell a breast-fed child and attack it.
”I am not worried for Alf. The foxes have not disturbed us, but they have bothered those who have small pets at home”, Normann says.
Normann believes that the foxes could also be useful in the allotment garden, as they eat mice and voles and city-rabbits. However, it seems that even human food is good enough for them.
”Whenever there is a barbecue party, soon a fox will be sniffing around. I think that many people also leave behind leftovers for foxes”, Normann notes.
The residents do not have a common assessment of the number of foxes moving in the allotment garden, as the estimates range from two to seven.
Apparently, we are speaking of a female fox and its cubs. One of the foxes is believed to have been hit by a car on the nearby Itäväylä motorway some time ago.
Six questions about city foxes
Can a fox attack a pet?
In principle, a fox may tear its prey to pieces, which would mean pets the size of rabbits or smaller. City foxes are not known to have killed cats or dogs.
Is it normal that a fox is not afraid of humans?
Foxes can get used to the presence of a human, if he or she does not harm it. However, cubs may be overly brave in this respect.
Does a fox spread diseases?
Foxes may carry Sarcoptes scabiei var. canis, which can be contracted by dogs. An infection usually requires a direct contact with the sick animal. Elsewhere in Europe foxes spread Echinococcus multilocularis, which produces the disease known as echinococcosis, potentially deadly for us humans. It has also been found in Sweden and Estonia. In principle, a fox can also spread rabies. The most recent rabies epidemic in Finland occurred around twenty years ago.
Does it pose a danger if a fox rolls around in children’s sandboxes?
Foxes carry various parasitic diseases, which is why it may be good to cover the sandboxes just in case.
Does a fox damage vegetable gardens?
A fox’s food consists mainly of small animals, including rodents and birds. It also likes to eat parts of plants and leftovers. If a fox has been rummaging through a vegetable garden, it is more likely that it has been looking for voles - not carrots.
How could one drive foxes away from the neighbourhood?
One should not leave any food - for example leftovers - available for foxes. The foundations of cottages and sheds should be covered for example by nets in order that foxes could not get inside and build a den there. If foxes cause very much trouble, the city can help to chase away the animals.
The questions were answered by Visa Eronen of the Uusimaa Game Management District and Vesa Koskikallio of the City of Helsinki Public Works Department.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 6.8.2012