|Short Detail:||fish Rescue centre|
I saw a feature on Practical Fishkeeping from the MSAS about a rehoming crisis, well technically I saw in on the British Cichlid Association through the RSS feed, but now I'm splitting hairs. It prompted me to send an email and also brought back fond memories of the first 20 years of my life spent in Burgess Hill (bar a short stint in the US). My parents still live in Sussex, although I must admit to not getting down there very often, but when I do, I'll try and tie it in with one of your meetings and come and say hi.
Whilst I never imagined myself as a fish-keeper, I did seem to have a knack of accumulating the pets of others, ever since I'd been old enough to keep pets, I seemed to be given unwanted pets left right and centre.
I'm up in the home counties now, near Chesham, Bucks and sadly it took a death in the family (my mother-in-law) to point me down the route of what became a fish rescue centre. My wife's brother came to live with us and being a little out in the sticks, he found it a bit boring with not much to do (and too young to drive) so we converted a couple of outbuildings into fish rooms. Before long we were importing oddballs for some of his friends and 'customers' and he also seemed to be very well connected locally, and known as someone who could rehome fishes. I'll happily hold my hand up and say he is by far the more knowledgeable, I just pay the bills and do my little bit. Of course his teenage years brought some extra chellenges with ladies (and beer and kebabs) sometimes shifting priorities, but we pulled through and even when he found his own place to live, the fish rooms remained (although nothing fancy like importing). He's a musician these days but still has a passion for all things aquatic. If he could make a proper living from fish rather than music (he's quite successful in that), I think that would be a tough decision for him.
In late 2010 we decided to move into part of a unit on a local farm. I have my own small family now and those outbuildings at home are converted to their original planned uses, a utility room and a kids' playroom. I already have use of the whole unit on the farm, but we cleared a space of around 800 square feet and made plans to build a permanent tropical warm room and a large indoor cold water pond. I found out very quickly that you can easily forget about the costs of running lots of aquariums when it's included in your home electric bill. Paying the local farmer for heating a tropical room in a farm unit over winter was a whole new world. Thankfully it's warmed up a bit! We try and be be flexible with the space to throw up the necessary systems as and when they are needed. This has made it a challenge to dedicate x-amount of space to either tropicals or pond fish, and the ideal scenario would be to move the pond fish systems back home, but there's little chance of that happening so we're still a work in progress as we find our feet in our new space.
For years we'd run privately and quite happily with the fish largely coming from the same sources, but 2011 also saw the launch of a website. I'm sure it had only been live an hour or two before a lady (funnily enough in Sussex) asked us to clear her pond. And largely, that's how it continues. Pond after pond being filled in. I'm hopeless at saying no, but there's just too many ponds being filled in for us to be able to help. Of course if people bring the fish to us we'll find them a new home, but if we had the manpower and resources, there genuinely is enough demand to have someone full-time doing pond clearances - and that's just locally. Perhaps it's the cost of running a pond, but normally it seems to be when houses are changing hands, ponds just don't seem a very attractive selling point. Of course the website has brought many other fishes through the door and helped build some very useful contacts, but other times people are truly offended that you won't travel a hundred miles to collect their fish. I'm trying to get a 13 acre lake through planning and the original idea of a small fishing syndicate might need a re-think as there's enough pond fish out there to fill it!
My brother-in-law is currently off on a marine-tangent, and I'm enjoying a wild caught Malawi cichlid breeding project - I thought it might help pay the bills, but I've spent too much on fish for that equation to ever work in my favour. I think we just about have the balance right for the rescue work. About 30 people (on and off) who help us rehome fish and a steady stream of new arrivals each week, but you never know quite what will come through the door.
We both work (although my wife may disagree), and the fish rescue is something that takes a large amount of time and a fair amount of cash. But we both enjoy it and we certainly are busy with it. We don't sell the fishes we rescue (I know some similar operations do), but an old pond filter or a used fish tank we might get given will be cleaned up and thrown to the lions on ebay (if we don't need it). We do get some free food and the occasional spare part or piece of equipment from some of the larger companies, but beyond that and recycling a few bits of old kit, we pay for it ourselves.
We're near Chesham in Buckinghamshire (not that a map of the UK on our homepage stops emails from America!) and if any of you find yourself up this way you're welcome to pop in for a brew and a look at what we do. You'll have to excuse the mess, "functional before tidy" my dad used to say (ok he didn't, but I think that's pretty much our motto!).