Foxes were first established in the British Isles 330,000 years ago, some time during the Wolstonian Glaciation. It is reported that several possible subspecies may have existed in the UK, including:
The Mountain or 'Greyhound' Fox (also known as 'Hill' or 'Fell')
The Common or 'Cur' Fox
The Urban or 'Mastiff' Fox (also known as 'Bulldog' or 'Terrier')
It is unknown for sure if all or any of these foxes differed genetically in any significant way, as genetic testing is only a recent tool for humanity and few if any, reliable taxidermy examples of these foxes remain.
Foxes were not the only canids in once living in the UK. It is known that several species of canid have existed in the UK, including:
Grey Wolf (The last Grey Wolf was reported in 1786)
Arctic Fox (Went extinct 10,000 years ago. Also imported for fur)
Golden Jackal (Imported and released for sport in the 1600-1800s)
Coyote (Imported and released for sport in the 1600-1800s)
Raccoon Dog (Invasive species. Imported for fur, kept as exotic pets)
North American Red Fox (New world fox. Imported for fur)
The loss of apex predators greatly impacted our ecology and efforts to 'Rewild Britain' are underway in order to try and save precious ecosystems.
The sport of hunting foxes on horseback originated in England in the sixteenth century, being banned in its original form in 2005 in England and Wales, when a law came in to prohibit the hunting of foxes with hounds.
Foxes weren't the only animal hunted extensively. Wolves were once native to the British Isles and it was once our apex predator, but along with many other species present at the time, the grey wolf was hunted until the last one was no more in the late nineteenth century.
Attitudes towards hunting and natures 'bounty' from the sixteenth century up until the twentieth century was truly a catastrophe for our ecology.
By 1815-1854 the native fox had become so scarce, that there was a demand for breeding and importing foxes to 'restock' the British countryside. In his 1859 book 'Silk and Scarlet', Henry Dixon states:
“The importation of foxes has increased to a very great extent, and it is said that in one year about a thousand were in Leadenhall market. The supply comes principally from Holland...
It is certain that Essex is fearfully stripped, and Norfolk as well. A great many have come from Scotland, and Ireland has of late become rather an importing than an exporting country.”
The farming of the North American red fox and Arctic fox for the fur trade began in North America, in the early nineteenth century and was well-established in the British Isles by 1920.
While the UK continues to trade in imported fur, the farming of animals for primarily for their fur was banned in England and Wales in 2000, but these farmed species are still bred and kept in the UK, as companion animals and animal ambassadors for private and public collections.
Until 1959, the North American red fox was considered a separate species to the European red fox and modern genetic technology has been able to establish that our original classification was likely to have been correct.