WILDLIFE presenter Chris Packham has said a Bishop’s Stortford primary school’s decision to spend almost £2,000 to get rid of an urban fox is a missed opportunity to learn about nature.
The animal, which is said to often be seen perching on a plastic bench in the playground at Richard Whittington Primary, has become so bold that it is no longer scared off when pupils come pouring out of their classrooms.
One parent said: “He sits there and when the kids come out he just looks at them. He had built a nest under the temporary classroom but that’s been fenced off now.
“Lots of people love him and think it’s educational but you’ve got to err on the side of the caution. Having known about it for a while, it would only take one kid being bitten and the school would be in all sorts of trouble. They have to do something about it because they can’t take that risk.”
However, the Springwatch presenter told the BBC said: “This is a unique opportunity for young people to engage with wildlife first hand.
“They could easily be managed by the teachers and told not to approach the animal and simply to enjoy it. To think they are to be taken out of the school, at any expense whatsoever, is frankly disgusting.”
In February, a four-week-old baby underwent emergency surgery after his finger was bitten off by an urban fox which had climbed into his cot while he slept. The newborn also needed stitches and treatment for facial and head injuries where the animal had struck him against a door frame at his home in Bromley.
The attack promoted London Mayor Boris Johnson to hold urgent talks with council leaders to discuss the danger posed by urban foxes and the possibility of a cull.
Mr Packham, however, said the school’s action showed people were “susceptible to the most ludicrous scaremongering that our society can muster on behalf of an animal”.
“We know that every year there are 6,000 cases of dog bites treated in hospitals at the cost of £3m to the NHS and on average one adult and one child dies in dog attacks each year in the UK,” he said. “I am absolutely certain that if it were a dog then this action would not be happening.”
A statement released yesterday (Wednesday, March 6) by Richard Whittington’s chairman of governors said: “The grounds of the school are being visited by a fox. Urban foxes are scavengers and opportunists and pose a minimal threat. However, as the safety of the pupils is our primary concern we are erring on the side of caution and dealing with the situation as a safety and hygiene issue.
“We have liaised with and taken advice from local authorities, including environmental health and the RSPCA. Following this, control measures have been put in place by a specialist contractor.
“At present, the fox is still visiting the site and we are taking further advice from relevant professional bodies.”
In a letter to parents, Richard Whittington head teacher Chris Jones added: “The school has liaised with both East Herts District Council and Uttlesford District Council to find out how we can deter these unwelcome visits. We have been advised that it wouuld be illegal to catch urban foxes and then release them into the countryside. Foxes cannot be poisoned. Both councils recommended we use the services of a contractor who specialises in dealing with urban foxes.
“The contractor has spent a considerable amount of time on the school premises undertaking a full survey, addressing key areas of concern and undertaking remedial work. Despite some considerable cost to the school (£1,870), the fox is still evident in the school grounds.
“I have arranged for the school to contact the contractor in order to seek further advice. We will continue working with the recommended specialists to try and prevent the fox coming into the school within the legal constraints imposed.”