City dwellers

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It turns out that our vicinity - neighbourhood, urban suburb, what-have-you - in Glasgow provides not just an ideal habitat for almost every kind of domestic canine owned by man, and for an ever-increasing collection of mischievous man-owning felines, but less expectedly for another four-footed creature. Foxes seem to make a good living round here and can be spotted nonchalantly sloping through garden gates or lolloping over walls in search of edible refuse. On the whole these vulpine Glaswegians seem remarkably unperturbed by the predominance of Homo sapiens, the species that ignorantly believes it has colonized the area.

Usually I've seen the foxes at night. But one afternoon I was suddenly roused by the baying of a beagle (if, in fact, baying is what beagles do). I went to the study window to locate the fuss and was just in time to see, streaking urgently through the long grass below our garden wall, a rust-red, full-grown fox with a splendid brush. It was concentrating hard on Escape.

It really needn't have worried. The beagle was a merely domestic creature whose latent instinct for the chase, though alerted, was resulting in little more than a series of frenetic circles on a spot far away. It was certainly making a blatant fracas, but its moment of potential glory was completely undermined by silliness: It obviously hadn't a flickering clue what it was so excited about.

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Monsieur Reynard, however, wasn't taking any chances. He played the traditional game by its rules, and silently, swiftly absconded: The snarling pack of his nightmares was after him, the dreaded red-coats, the horn, the hooves, the tally-ho, and the bally-hoo were breaking suddenly into his sense of urban security as a grim possibility. Happily, he was fleeing from an illusion.

It made me realize how peculiarly protected wildlife can be if it adapts to city living. The growing number of foxes in British cities aren't threatened by huntsman or farmer or gamekeeper. Even city rabbits (though admittedly I have seen only one in 21/2 years round here) are probably in less danger from the human beings and their dimwitted dogs than they are from the city foxes. But who knows, perhaps even they are too well fed to bother with prey that runs.

Hedgehogs, remarkably safe wherever they are from all predators but the car, are positively welcomed by town gardeners who know a thing or two, as friend-of-man and enemy-of-slug. Bowls of bread and milk on the back doorstep can turn them into regular visitors. I'm a little disappointed that these snuffling, endearingly grumply balls of prickle do not, as yet, seem to have chosen the delights of our particular district - in spite of an army of black, shiny, ubiquitous slugs, unwittingly ripe for a hedgehog dinner.

But hedgehogs do live right in Glasgow, I know: I've seen one scuttle rapidly under a garden hedge in the West End. There's no reason why they shouldn't come and visit us.

The house martins do. In summer they flit and dash in an endless display of aeronautical wizardry to the north of the house, sticking their mud-huts to its wall, high under the eaves. These nests are a precipitous, dizzying distance from the ground, as I discovered last summer when I extended the ladder to its limits and climbed up in a vain attempt to re-interest its overbusy, insect-catching parents in a nestling that had tried to fly before its wings were ready.

Where did house martins attach their nests before humans built houses for them? One can't help admiring, and feeling a soft point of affection for, creatures who trust us enough to make good use of us. And they are not slow on the uptake.

My wife now regularly throws bread to our three tame ducks at lunchtime. The Muscovy duck has started to peck at the door if she is a little later than usual. But it seems that it isn't the only bird with an internal clock, ready and waiting. A couple of sparrows and a starling are down onto the red-stemmed dogwood in a trice. They are busy just at present lining their nests with duck-down (courtesy of the management), but a brief interlude for a snack is apparently permissible.

In the front garden the year-old fish pond now looks established enough. But almost as soon as it was filled with water, the blackbirds of the area started to use it as a bath. They seemed to take it instantly for granted. Clearly we had provided it for their pleasure and recreation, no mistake. Their thanks (from my domesticated viewpoint, through the sitting-room window) is their obvious enjoyment of the facility - their ecstatic, spray-scattering, fluttering ablutions.

But I wondered if they wondered in the least where this luxury had suddenly come from; they seem so unquestioning. The fox, too, if it likes, would be more than welcome to quench its thirst there and wash down the chicken remains it has just swiped from the Dorwards' dustbin down the road - so long as it doesn't get the idea that the ducks in the back garden are also provided (further courtesy of the management) for its urbanized sense of the easily-come-by.

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