Foxes Live ... and other wild animals in British cities
On home soil, research by Dr Bryony Tolhurst and colleagues has focused on determining the distribution and abundance of wild carnivores in urban environments. Urbanisation is detrimental to many wild mammal carnivores, yet some thrive in towns and cities. This can result in conflict with humans arising from nuisance factors and zoonotic/veterinary disease transmission, with negative impacts on wild carnivore welfare and human wellbeing.
Prior to this University of Brighton research, up-to-date information on UK urban carnivore distributions was limited. There was little data on how humans affect wild animal welfare in cities. Urban ecology in mainstream media focused on nuisance or disease risk factors. The main cause of this data gap was the challenge of collecting field data at regional or national scales in the fragmented matrix of privately- and publicly-owned land present in towns and cities.
University of Brighton researchers confronted this challenge by developing a citizen science project linked to broadcasts on Channel 4, Foxes Live: Wild in the City. These included a call for the public to submit sightings of urban foxes to a website. Together with other surveys, the data was mapped digitally to determine fox abundance in eight UK cities, with the method also adapted to other species like Eurasian badgers. This has led, for example, to changes in the contingency planning against potential spread of rabies.
In the UK, sick or injured wildlife are often taken into rehabilitation centres before being released. However, the effect of captivity on animal behaviour and long-term survival is disputed. Working with the RSPCA, the University of Brighton team researched the impact of rehabilitation on urban foxes and on hedgehogs during winter. Findings showed that temporary captivity of urban foxes can cause behavioural disruption and territory displacement and, in turn, affect survival and that over-winter survival of hedgehogs is not improved by rehabilitation. The RSPCA have used University of Brighton evidence to confirm that their protocol of treating and releasing the hundreds of hedgehogs admitted each winter had no detrimental effect on animal survival.