A Hove fox has been tracked moving some 195 miles in order to find a new home – breaking the previous British record.
Experts from the University of Brighton teamed up with the BBC to study urban foxes as part of a ground-breaking research project.
The incredible results, which were broadcast last night on BBC Two’s Winterwatch, showed an ousted adult urban fox zigzagging from Hove across Sussex and into Kent before reaching Rye.
Spearheaded by the university’s assistant head of pharmacy and biomolecular sciences Dr Dawn Scott, the study saw the foxes tagged with global positioning system (GPS) monitors in the autumn.
Dr Scott said: “It’s incredible. The GPS tracker updated us on locations every 30 minutes.
“The data from the study is really important to help us understand the behaviour of urban foxes and especially how they differ from the rural fox.”
The research project focused on father and son duo, Fleet and Fennec.
Both were fitted with GPS trackers after they were found living at the end of a garden in suburban Hove.
Early results showed the pair venturing a couple of roads away in each direction for food – not uncommon for urban foxes.
The BBC then fitted night-vision cameras to capture interaction between the pair as they came out to snack on food left out for them.
At first all was as expected. Dad Fleet showed his dominance and made sure he got first dibs on the food. But over the weeks their behaviour shifted.
Dr Scott explained: “There started to be a bit of competition for food and the younger fox began to show his dominance.”
Further evidence of a shift in power came from Fennec’s body language, with his low posture and ears indicating he was now the boss.
The scientists noticed Fleet was not at his best and concluded he was suffering from lung worm.
No longer top-dog in his territory, the three-year-old set off in search of pastures new.
Dr Scott explained: “We don’t exactly know what happened but we think Fennec pushed him out and that pressure caused him to leave and try to find somewhere else.
“In Brighton and Hove we estimate there are 20 foxes per square kilometre, so there can be a lot of competition.
“We know they move between urban and rural areas but what happened next we were not expecting.”
Fleet began what was to become an epic quest on December 9.
At first his ambitions seemed moderate as he headed towards Woodvale Cemetery in Lewes Road, Brighton.
But, unsatisfied with his new patch, he headed north out of the city towards Hassocks.
After hot-footing it across the A27 he tried to find suitable territory in the town – all the time with Dr Scott and the team following his progress on the computer.
He started to make his way back south towards Brighton and Hove before appearing to change his mind, and direction, and heading east .
By Christmas, he was in Heathfield and then crossed the county’s border into Kent.
He was back in Sussex by the new year – his journey ending in Rye having travelled some 195 miles (314km) in just over three weeks.
With the adventurous fox still seemingly fit and well, the team lost his GPS signal.
Fearing his luck had run out and that he had been shot or hit by a car, Dr Scott and her team ventured to his last known location.
Dr Scott said: “We went to area where we last had a signal for him to see if he had been run over or injured.
“We didn’t find anything so we assume he is still going.
“We had been tracking him since the autumn and the GPS systems can fail.
“Last time we had him he appeared to be heading back along the coast towards Hastings so I don’t think he was finished.”
The results, she added, confirmed the animals will move out to colonise other areas when populations in urban areas reach their maximum densities.
She said: “We know they travel to find new territory but we didn’t expect to see him go quite so far.
“Especially as Fleet is an urban fox. He was born in Brighton and Hove and raised his young there.”