On a late summer afternoon a fox (pictured) lay sprawled on the patio outside the kitchen window, snoozing in the sunshine and looking perfectly at home. It woke, turned over a small rock but did little else apart from eating a few grass stems, until after an hour it vanished under the hedge into Farnley Woods. It returned for another siesta a few afternoons later but has not been seen since.
I was dissuaded from putting out food for it remembering the experience of my brother-in-law who lives in Headingley, with a garden backing on to a strip of land much frequented by foxes. At least one had the habit of doing the rounds of houses where it was rewarded with food scraps. One evening my brother-in-law had left it outside while he went into the kitchen only to find, on turning round, the fox sitting on the kitchen floor eyeing him expectantly. After that he gave up feeding it.
Perhaps the majority of our foxes now live in towns and, with a diet reliant on spilled bins and the leavings of fast food outlets, are losing some of their foraging skills. I recall a conversation with a Wharfedale farmer a few years ago who derided the efforts of those involved in a scheme to round up urban foxes and return them to the countryside. He reckoned these town animals lacked survival skills and would sometimes sit by gates waiting for them to be opened and that the kindest thing was to shoot them.
Others, like the visitor to our garden and another I saw in June while doing an early morning bird survey at the edge of Pudsey, seem to exist in an environment where they exploit the resources of both town and country.
That truly wild foxes can also be confident in the presence of humans was illustrated earlier this year when my wife and I, on a remote track in the Corsican hills, saw a fox fifty yards ahead of us. It walked slowly towards and then past us, no more than two yards away, ignoring us completely before looking back then disappearing into the bushes. We surmised that, in an area where it was unlikely to be persecuted, it simply did not see us as a threat.
Our most recent fox emerged from a patch of reeds beside a lagoon at Minsmere Bird Reserve in Suffolk. Carrying a prey item it trotted across a narrow strip of land splitting the lagoon, causing panic in the assembled ducks and waders. Another real country fox!