Where did all the fish go?

This question has been asked so many times in the past couple of weeks.

Our house is typical of houses in old mill towns. It is the end of a terrace of six, on a main road. It is less than a mile from the town centre but when this row of houses was built, in 1890, it was out in the countryside and there were only three other houses. It would have been quite an exclusive place to live. In a short space of time many more houses were built, including long terraces of mill workers houses. The wealthy people moved out.

From the back of our house we can look down on the terraces. We can also see the cobbled streets behind them (though can’t get at an angle to get a clear picture). All the old houses have back streets like this one immediately behind our house.

At the front we have a small garden which is mostly taken up by a fish pond. It has been there for over 20 years. It is very close to the house. Fish have lived for varying lengths of time and eventually died from natural causes.

It is a busy road with traffic and pedestrians. Every day lots of people stop to look at the fish. A couple of weeks ago, we got up one morning and all but the very largest fish were gone. At first we thought someone had taken them. After posting on a local Facebook group we heard more and more reports of herons being spotted in the area. We can only assume that, as with many other forms of wildlife, the herons are behaving in a very unusual way during lockdown. They are probably short of food because of the way water is moving in and out of local reservoirs at the moment but they are very brave to come into this environment.

We know how brave they are because last Sunday at about 10 o’clock Steve saw one right outside our window! Fortunately the pond was covered by then and he went hungry,

Immediately after the fish went missing. Steve made a temporary cover. He used things we had lying around but it wasn’t very pretty. We really didn’t want to cover the pond because it would not be so easy to see the fish. We had over 200 messages from people who said they’d enjoyed watching them. These are some of them:

I’ve been walking past this pond and looking at the fish everytime for as long as I can remember (I’m 29) – I hope the issue is resolved & your not deterred from getting more fish!

That’s so sad I have been living in Canada for 10 years but remember your fish so well and they gave me so much pleasure on our daily walks.

For as long as I can remember I’ve always enjoyed walking passed yours and seeing them 🐠🥰
Often wondered why a heron never ate them, always figured it was because one wouldn’t land on a main road?!

We always stop and look at the fish. My autistic daughter gets alot of joy out of looking at them. We only passed by a few days ago.

My girls have loved seeing your fish. Amy is 23 but remembers the ‘fishy house’

My son wanted to feed them everytime we went to the shop when we lived on Claremont street

I see so many people stopping to have a look. All my children have enjoyed watching the fish when we walk past.

We decided we should protect the pond, at least until life, and wildlife, return to normality. We looked at all kinds of options. The one we liked best was a movement-activated water jet that squirts anything that crosses it. This wasn’t a practical option mainly because it had to be permanently attached to a hose and that wasn’t possible. We were also a bit concerned, with it being so close to the house, that it might also drench the postman, or anyone else who came too close.

The second idea was to buy a security camera that not only recorded what it saw but also had a light and noise that were activated by any movement. We ordered one and it was delivered next day. No matter how we tried we could not make it work. It would not connect to our wifi system. Reading some comments we found a few people saying this particular model actually works better on older systems. To their credit, the company we bought from refunded our money within an hour of the courier picking up the return.

Old-fashioned nets were out of the question. A net would be untidy and quite difficult to move whenever the pump filters need cleaning. We had to settle for ‘invisible floating nets’. They are not invisible, they are not nets. They do float on the surface and they should keep the herons at bay.

People are very kind. One of the people who contacted us wanted to give us some of his fish. He had recently moved house and had ‘adopted’ them. There were far too many in his pond and he had been looking for a good home for them. The only problem was that he couldn’t catch them. For three days he, and his wife, tried to get them but the pond was very murky and the more they tried the worse it got. Steve went round to help. Being on opposite sides of the pond dealt with social distancing. He was no more successful.

They gave up and we went out and bought some more. This is the only time I have been out of the house in 12 weeks and I didn’t get out of the car. Steve bought about a dozen very small fish. When he put them in the pond they dashed about all over the place and much to our surprise three golden orfe, that we thought were gone, suddenly swam out from hiding. After the first day none of them have been seen much again. The little ones come out occasionally in the evenings but they are not very adventurous.

The next day another person sent a message to ask if we could rehome her fish. They had grown too big for her tank and she was ‘looking for a good home for them’. A few minutes later she arrive with the two fish in separate ziplock bags. One was very bright orange, the other black. We thought we would probably never see the dark one again but both are very active and are often swimming at the top of the water with the original large fish. A week later the small ones are still very timid and rarely seen. They do not come out to have their photo taken.

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