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Foxes, cats and squirrels: how to deter them from your garden

Many of us enjoy watching the various mammals and birds that visit our outside spaces. But it’s an unavoidable fact that some visitors are more of a nuisance than others

Which? Gardening magazine asked a panel of around 1,400 Which? members whether there are any animals that they would prefer didn’t come into their gardens – and foxes, cats and squirrels came out on top.

If you’ve spent time and energy carefully tending your flower borders or vegetable patch, seeing the fruits of your labours damaged can be upsetting.

We wanted to find out which animals cause the biggest problems and whether our members had any handy tips for dealing with them humanely. Cats, foxes, squirrels, rats, magpies, moles, badgers, pigeons, deer and rabbits were all named.

To find out how to deal with all of these creatures humanely, subscribe to Which? Gardening magazine online or by call 029 2267 0000.

Cats

Cat on bird table

For some, cats are doted-on furry friends, but almost half of the survey respondents had experienced problems with neighbourhood felines in your gardens and would much prefer that they didn’t visit at all.

Why they’re not welcome
The main problem caused by cats is digging in beds and borders, and fouling in them. Cats are also disliked for scaring away and attacking wildlife. In particular, for killing garden birds.

How to deter cats
All cats are legally protected from harm by the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and their Scottish and Northern Irish equivalents. Dealing with neighbourhood cats comes down to a combination of humane deterrents and tolerance. Members suggest minimising bare soil available for cats to dig in, planting closely in your borders and covering veg beds with mesh netting until your plants are large enough to fill the space. Shooing them away and clapping your hands to scare cats is an on-the-spot method, but obviously only works if you’re always on the lookout. A squirt of water from a water pistol should do the trick, or you could install a motion-triggered water squirter, such as the ScareCrow, which soaks intruders with a jet of water as they approach. Keeping bird tables and feeders inaccessible and out of cats’ reach will help to save birds from being attacked.

Read more about how to deter cats

Foxes

Fox on a garden path

Cunning, sly and wily or charming, handsome and agile: foxes divide opinion. While many love to watch their activities and encourage them into their gardens, some would rather they stayed away.

Why they’re not welcome
A third of survey respondents don’t want to see foxes in their gardens, with the main reasons given as scavenging from bins, fouling and deterring other wildlife.

How to deter foxes
The main way to dissuade foxes from coming to your garden is to reduce access to food: don’t leave pet food out and remove any fallen fruit, net crops on your veg plot and make sure the lid of your bin fits securely – try using a bungee cord to keep it closed. Avoid using animal-based fertilisers, such as bonemeal, and block up any access holes including under a shed or decking that could provide shelter. Several of survey respondents have tried fox-repellent products and water sprayers triggered by infrared sensor, such as ScareCrow – and both these methods are recommended by fox charity The Fox Project, which also offers advice about deterring foxes. It suggests using Get Off My Garden or Scoot, but a handful of survey respondents reported using their own urine to some effect…

Read more about how to deter foxes

Grey squirrels

Grey squirrel in a flower border

Grey squirrels have gradually spread across the UK since they were introduced from North America in the late 19th century. They are now the dominant species across almost all of England and Wales, parts of Scotland and much of Ireland.

Why they’re not welcome
A third of survey respondents would prefer not to have grey squirrels in their gardens, mainly because they eat food left out for other wildlife. They’re also inclined to dig up bulbs, and nibble on sweetcorn, apples, pears, strawberries and sunflower seedheads. They can also strip bark off trees.

How to deter grey squirrels
While you can’t pick and choose what wildlife comes to eat any food you put out, you can alter what you offer so that it’s less attractive to any visitors you don’t want to see. If you’re feeding the local birds, choose a squirrel-resistant bird feeder, such as our Best Buy Squirrel Buster Classic. The RSPB suggests positioning bird feeders where the grey raiders can’t jump on to them from nearby trees. You could also defend the approach to bird tables with a downward-facing plant pot attached to the underside of the table, or apply grease such as Vaseline on the pole. Another idea is to sprinkle strong chilli powder or pepper sauce on to bird food. Birds aren’t bothered by the chilli, but most squirrels can’t stand the burning sensation and will leave the food alone. If squirrels persistently disturb bulbs, either in pots or in the ground, cover your plantings with wire mesh to prevent digging.

Read more about how to deter grey squirrels

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