The inevitable urban expansion has left precious few natural refuges for other species. Yet, some versatile species - such as foxes, rats, pigeons and gulls - manage to not only survive but thrive in our artificial landscapes. Sadly, few people see these animals as triumphant vestiges of the natural world but rather unwelcome scroungers who dare to live in our midst.
The irony is that we have created the perfect habitat for these adaptable species in our cities and suburbs. The 7.2 tonnes of food thrown away in the UK every year ensures they are never short of a meal; while many man-made structures provide safe places to nest or raise young away from natural predators. Many of us even go one step further - deliberately providing food and nesting sites for species we like, then bemoaning other animals that take advantage of the bounty.
Of course, some city dwellers relish encounters with all urban wildlife - feeding pigeons in the park or foxes in their garden is the only chance many get to engage with nature. But even the most tolerant animal 'lover' gets annoyed when a mouse chews through the electrical wiring or squirrels in the loft keep them awake to all hours. Just like with our human neighbours, sometimes conflicts arise and we must seek out a humane and effective solution.
Killing 'nuisance' animals is often seen as a simple way to solve human/wildlife conflicts. In reality, culling is rarely an effective long-term solution. Nature abhors a vacuum so removing the existing animals simply creates a vacant niche which new individuals quickly occupy. This means that culling must be done continuously; as soon as you stop you are back to square one, which may be great for commercial pest controllers, but is a colossal waste of time and money for homeowners and local authorities - and of course an unnecessary loss of animal lives.
Action for residents
While you may not be keeping close tabs on the condition of your house, the animals in your neighbourhood certainly are. Deteriorated soffits and fascia boards, holes in loft vents, open chimneys, ridged roof tiles and cracks in walls all provide opportunities for animals to enter your house in search of a warm, dry nesting site and reliable source of food. Permanently preventing animals from entering buildings is the only long-term solution to wildlife problems.
Regardless of the season, it is always possible that young animals are present. Squirrels can have two litters a year; one in early spring and one in late summer/early autumn. Be careful not to separate mother from young, doing so will not only cause the inhumane death of the young, but can result in the mother tearing her way back in to retrieve her young. Be tolerant and wait a few weeks until the family has vacated, then make repairs to prevent animals from moving in again.
If you can't wait for the animals to leave on their own, the next best strategy is humane eviction-gently harassing the animals so they'll move to an alternative location. Wild animals have detailed knowledge of their home ranges and alternative places of refuge will be known. A combination of unpleasant smells and sounds can often persuade unwanted wildlife to move to another refuge. Rags soaked in a strong smelling substance such as cider vinegar or citronella (but not ammonia), bright lights and a loud radio left on during the night will make your home a much less attractive place to live.
Live-trapping and relocation
Well-meaning people often resort to what they see as a humane solution to wildlife conflicts - live-trapping animals and releasing them in a near-by park or other natural area. While it sounds like a good idea, the truth is that live-trapping and relocation rarely ends well for wildlife, nor is it a permanent solution. Wild animals often do not adapt quickly to new surroundings, no matter how inviting that habitat may seem to humans.
In fact, the odds are heavily stacked against any animal which is released in a strange area. They will likely have been dumped in another animal's territory and may be chased out or attacked; they don't know where to go to escape from predators; they may not know how to find food or water in this landscape; and they may be desperate to find their young who could still be back at the original location.
The perils of relocation are demonstrated by a 2004 study of grey squirrels in the USA. A staggering 97 percent of animals who were live-trapped and relocated from suburban areas to a large forest either died soon after release or disappeared from the release area.