Wild fox watches England Women's road to Euro 2022 glory

A surprise visitor

A surprise visitor - Credit: Paul Hobson

By Paul Hobson for Derbyshire Life

As a keen football fan, I have been planning my recent wildlife photography with care.  

As the Women’s European Championships approached, I began to wind down the project I was working on with my local nightjars and made sure I did not have any talks scheduled for any of the match days to ensure I would not miss any games.  

As the first match day approached the heat began to build (both literally and metaphorically) so we started to keep the door to our conservatory open all day and evening to allow a breeze to blow through the house, which also meant I could glance out into the garden.  

The first game was between England and Austria, a game I thought we should easily win but was, in fact, full of tension which meant I was glued to the TV.  

Imagine my surprise as I glanced up to see a young fox standing in the doorway, nervously watching me watching the footy.  

It gingerly stepped over the threshold of the door and stood just inside the conservatory. The TV was not on mute so it could easily hear the commentary as the game progressed.  

Foxes and football - an unusual combination!

Foxes and football - an unusual combination! - Credit: Paul Hobson

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A few moments later, it turned and left but not in a rush as if it had been scared. To say I was amazed is a massive understatement. 

To get matters into context, we have foxes regularly using our garden and I feed them at night with kitchen scraps such as chop bones and bits of uneaten chicken.  

In the past two years we have seen a number of cubs which have had a den in a garden close to ours. 

They are always slightly less cautious than their parents but, as the summer progresses, they have tended to become more wary.  

We occasionally see them during the day but the most common time to spot them is in the evening. 

Two years ago, I spent a major part of lockdown photographing the cubs and one night one came to the open conservatory door but was clearly very nervous. It barely glanced in before retreating. 

However, this new cub, full-grown in size, was far more confident.  

The next night I settled down to watch Norway play Northern Ireland but, even though the game was really exciting, I kept glancing at the conservatory door.  

As half-time approached the fox turned up again, looked in and this time walked into the conservatory.  

Paul's garden is frequently visited by foxes, but this young cub was particularly curious

Paul's garden is frequently visited by foxes, but this young cub was particularly curious - Credit: Paul Hobson

Still a bit nervous, it stayed for a few seconds then left but was back again within five minutes. It repeated this several times before disappearing.  

After the match I took time to consider the situation. I decided that I wanted to photograph the fox yet at the same time I had to consider the ethical and safety issues around its behaviour.  

Everything the fox did was its own decision and it was not coming in for food. I wondered if someone else had been feeding it and encouraging it to enter their house. I do know that at least three of our neighbours feed the foxes every night like I do.  

I therefore decided that I would not encourage it to enter the conservatory, but I would not deter it either. I did make one rule though - if it tried to walk further into our house I would stop it.  

Over the next few weeks it gained in confidence. It appeared every night and walked around the conservatory having a good sniff at various things, such as my gardening boots.  

The cub took a particular liking for Paul's hiking boots

The cub took a particular liking for Paul's hiking boots - Credit: Paul Hobson

It loved my gardening gloves and would wander off with them if I left a pair on the floor. Occasionally it walked up to the divide between the lounge and the conservatory but because I made a noise the first time it never tried to go further.  

The TV was always on and it did not seem to distract it at all. I also came across it a couple of times during the day in the garden.  

Once, when I went out to the greenhouse, it was standing on the lawn and when I went back inside it followed me to the door but did not come in.  

It was fascinating to spend time watching the young fox and I loved his company. He had many attributes of young dogs such as a fondness for soft toys. I learnt this when I found a cloth cheeseburger, which was clearly a dog's toy, lying next to a bush.

The cheeseburger appeared to be a favourite 'toy'

The cheeseburger appeared to be a favourite 'toy' - Credit: Paul Hobson

 

I thought it must have come from one of the neighbours' gardens and, because it was slightly mangled, I decided that they would not want it back, so I tossed it to one side.  

Two days later the cheeseburger was in the middle of the lawn.  

I then decided on conducting an experiment so I brought it indoors and placed it in the middle of the conservatory floor that evening.  

The fox turned up, did his round of the conservatory, spotted the toy, picked it up and walked out with it. Two days later the burger turned up in the middle of the lawn again. Recently, an old dishcloth has appeared, another 'toy' I guess. 

In previous years when we had young foxes visiting our garden, I always knew there was more than one.  

Two years ago there were six cubs, though the maximum I ever saw together was three. This year I could not be sure how many cubs there were.  

I did wonder if this cub did not have siblings because I never saw another cub during the whole of the summer and, because of his behaviour, I was confident that I was seeing the same fox each time. 

Paul's guest became increasingly confident as the days passed by

Paul's guest became increasingly confident as the days passed by - Credit: Paul Hobson

Perhaps this explained his curiosity – did he just want a bit of company? When he came into the conservatory he knew I was in the lounge as he would often glance at me. 

I do not know what the future will be for this fox. He is in excellent condition and does not walk up to people when he is out and about.  

I do not think anyone in the neighbourhood would harm him as people are used to seeing foxes walking around.  

However, I am wary because I do remember the furore that occurred in London when a woman found a fox in her kitchen.  

I guess that when the warm weather ends and our conservatory door is no longer left open he will just go about his business as usual.  

However, watching the footy this summer was an amazing experience, enriched by this young fox.