Urban spaces provide an increasingly important haven for wildlife species, according to nearly a decade of detailed fieldwork and analysis by wildlife charity the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and its army of volunteers.
And the Trust is keep to dispel myths about wild animals running rampage on city streets. Chief executive Jill Nelson said:” Giant foxes are apparently ‘mugging’ people of their groceries in dark alleyways. Grey squirrels are eating all the birds’ eggs and rats are apparently jumping at our throats.”
The truth is very different: “Foxes will take food where they can scavenge, it’s true, but are easily shooed away and there’s no scientific evidence they are getting bigger. Squirrels do occasionally eat eggs and fledglings, but not that many. And rats jump to escape not to attack.
“Contrast this with over 5 000 annual hospital admissions resulting from people being attacked by dogs – or the annual toll of about 50 million birds killed by domestic cats”.
The charity is launching its 10th annual Living with Mammals survey, the charity wants to set the record straight about some common misconceptions about mammals in the urban environment.
To take part in the survey during April, May and June, volunteers are required to spend some time observing a chosen site each week, for eight or more weeks throughout the survey period. .
The charity’s surveysofficer David Wembridge explains: “The data from Living with Mammals continues to demonstrate that urban sites provide important habitats for encouraging greater biodiversity.
“Considering gardens make up between a third and a half of the green space in urban areas, their significance for wildlife and biodiversity is clear. People with access to gardens can take simple steps to help support urban mammals, as well as birds and insects, by providing a range of easy, low maintenance microhabitats such as compost heaps, log piles and ponds which will support invertebrates, and offer nesting and hibernation sites.”
MYTH Rats are as numerous as people – you are never more than six feet from a rat
There are fewer than ten million brown rats in Britain. In 2007, the English House Condition Survey found that rats occupied four of every thousand urban properties and were present in the gardens of just three per cent.
MYTH Rats leap at people’s throats
Rats jump to escape, not to attack.
MYTH Rats spread disease – inhaling rat droppings or coming into contact with their urine can be fatal
Rats are fastidiously clean unless overcrowded, spending a considerable proportion of their time grooming themselves and others. They do carry some human diseases, particularly leptospirosis, but the risk of infection is low and is smaller from urban rats than those in rural areas.
MYTH Fox numbers are increasing
Fox populations are stable in the long-term. Mange has had a big impact in many areas and populations are slow to recover. The findings of Living with Mammals are that numbers in urban areas nationally have changed little in the last decade.
MYTH Foxes raid bins and are dangerous to people and pets
Very few raid bins – better food is often left out for them by people – and heavy-duty wheelie bins are completely fox-proof.
There is no evidence that the parasites and diseases foxes might carry pose any significant risk to people or domestic pets. Confirmed attacks on people are almost unknown – compared to the many thousands of injuries, and several deaths, caused by dogs each year.
MYTH Grey squirrels have caused declines in British bird numbers over the past 40 years
The British Trust for Ornithology found that grey squirrels had no impact on many of England’s woodland bird species. Grey squirrels do occasionally eat eggs and fledglings but so do red squirrels, and birds probably compensate for the loss.