It’s so much easier to watch urban foxes than their country counterparts, where these quick-witted, sharp-eyed mammals are all too elusive.

So, when a friend told me of a thriving population living near his home in York, I decided to use the opportunity to get up close to these animals.

There followed a five-year project to watch foxes in my friend Colin’s city garden during which I got to witness their secret social behaviour.

The project began with Colin and I digging a bespoke den hidden behind some logs and rigging it with surveillance cameras.

However, despite having created the perfect home for them, the vixen chose to give birth to her cubs elsewhere.

It didn’t take me long to find her den, hidden in a huge patch of brambles, and so I set up some remote cameras here.

The footage showed that a vixen with two cubs and a dog fox occupied the site. It also revealed that the den was alarmingly close to a popular dog-walking area and I held my breath as I watched a large, black dog follow its nose directly to the fox home and look down one of the entrance holes.

At night, the microphones also recorded the sounds of young people congregating close by, lighting campfires, and playing music loudly.

It is interesting to see the different pressures urban foxes experience compared to their countryside equivalents.

As the cubs grew, the vixen became more afraid for their safety. Eventually this worked to my advantage because she moved out of her bramble-patch den and into the comparative haven of Colin’s garden – where of course I had already built her a ready-made home for her youngsters to explore the world in safety.

I headed into York to watch the young family from a hide I had built close by. It was not long before I heard a clatter of paws. I peered through my camouflage netting to see the dog fox bound onto a 6ft high wooden boundary fence.

It surveyed the area briefly then leapt down into the garden. I watched it sniff around the patch before cocking its leg on one of my remote cameras and slinking off through a hole in the fence to continue patrolling its territory.

Soon after, the female emerged through the same hole in the fence; one of her cubs trotting at her heels. It was the first time I had seen this cub in the flesh, and I felt like I knew it well from the footage captured on my remote cameras.

As the cub lolloped past, the sunlight picked out a halo of long hairs poking through its woolly coat. Soon a second cub peeked through the gap in the fence and dashed to catch up with the others.

Together the cubs clambered over the logs, sniffing out treats that Colin had put out for them, and then began chasing each other around in circles. Next, they disappeared through the entrance to the fox den I had built, and I watched on the screens connected to the hidden cameras as they collapsed in a heap inside, exhausted by their antics.

Colin continued to keep me up to date with sightings and sent me regular updates from the cameras. One day he rang to let me know about something baffling: there were now more than two fox cubs in his garden.

I headed back into York to see these extra cubs for myself. I settled into my hide and, as if on cue, the vixen materialised with her two youngsters. As she suckled them, a small head appeared through the hole in the fence and then another. Before I knew it a further three cubs had joined the other two and the vixen was now suckling five.

Over the next week, the cameras captured fox cubs tumbling about everywhere. It was difficult to keep tabs on them all and it took me several attempts before I finally counted a total of 10. Up until this point my cameras had only revealed two.

The mystery was solved when a second vixen appeared on the scene and I realised the two vixens had joined forces to raise their cubs together.

I had heard of vixens raising their cubs together in one large ‘family’, but I had never studied it. It just shows how when it comes to wildlife there is always so much more to learn.

I had headed to York in the hope of studying one family of urban foxes and had ended up with much more than I bargained for.