Spring Travels turn into Spring Travails

Late last year my fishpond began to leak and before too long it became apparent that some serious repairs were going to be needed. Ever since we took charge of the pond on moving into the house four years ago it has provided both entertainment and education (and not just for the cat). Whatever solution I was going to come up with; rehoming the occupants and filling in the pond was just not an option. My goodness, just how much money does aquatic refurbishment cost these days? Do the people with fancy garden patios really have that much cash to splash around? I could fly to Japan and buy my own koi farm for that price.

So much for my bijou weekend breaks to the Continent. So much for ticking off a few more European destinations before the tourist multitudes descend. And so much for beating Brexit. The frogs simply must have somewhere to breed if they are to keep coming back year after year and the subtly enhanced genetic mix of goldfish must be given every chance of success. The grandchildren can learn all about the environment in school but managing the pond has taught them a lot about the dangers of overpopulation and the need for a clean living space; about predation, photosynthesis and genetics. To say nothing of some of the fascinating mating practices of amphibians.

In what definitely counts as the best Mother’s Day present any woman could receive, my son took a week off work to dig out the old concrete and make ready for the experts to come in and set a new lining into the old pond. This means that my final bill will be very substantially reduced and by the time the job is finished I will find myself with a garden feature that looks more suitable for a stately home. It will no doubt be a candidate for adornment in due course but the will be absolutely no bronze statues of little boys urinating into the pond, no matter how much the grandchildren may say they love Brussels. However, beautification is pretty far down my list at the moment because I’ve learned that, when keeping fish, the first priority is water quality. As is the second priority, third, fourth and so on. I still shudder at the thought of the absurdly shallow pools at Dubai airport, surrounded by loud noises and brightly illuminated twenty four seven.

As well as the beach and the back garden, East Kent has some excellent animal sanctuaries and I’ve included some pictures from our visits. The children were rapt with attention at the girl who gave Big Cat talks at Wingham Wildlife Park. No, she is not teaching the tigers to do tricks, she is demonstrating how a good keeper will get them to stretch up to their full height so as to have their bellies examined for injury or abnormality. Like a number of the cats that are kept here, these magnificent brothers can never be part of any captive breeding programme. They may be strong and healthy but they are the result of careless mixing of different species and their reintroduction would cause untold harm to the wild population. The enthusiasm of the young keepers kept us in the park until closing time despite the cold and Lily’s disappointment with a rather raggedy looking pack of European wolves.

The rather different Howletts Wildlife Park is an offshoot of the Port Lympne Animal Reserve and here the conservation message is still slightly tinged with controversy. My grandson, Ted, screwed up his courage and completed the treetop challenge, the staff were all extremely helpful during our visit and the gorillas have much larger enclosures these days but I have a long memory. Since I last visited one of their establishments more than forty years ago, the Aspinall family collection has seldom had a year out of the news: whether it was for the deaths of keepers, big cats escaping onto the Romney Marsh or failed gorilla reintroduction projects, the “rich man’s menagerie” label is a very hard one to shake. On the other hand, they may have been responsible for saving the Przewalski wild horse from extinction and nowadays seem to be completely “on message”.

Frogs and toads may be rather less glamorous than tigers and jaguars but many species of amphibians are critically endangered so a fully functioning garden pond is not such a bad place for my grandchildren to start getting the message. Even if every goldfish that I managed to breed last year has ended up costing me about £100.

Categories: Britain, East of England

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