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Just how quickly things can go wrong!

It's the start of another year at Nibbles and being perfectly honest, a terrifying one. At the end of last year we had a firm plan in place, enabling the charity to move forward and keep on track to expand, offering more help to unwanted rabbits. Very suddenly and within a matter of minutes all our planning fell down around us, leaving us reeling and unable to find a way out.

Rescue is always one challenge after another and while we have always managed to find a solution in the past, this time around we aren't just without a paddle, we're without a boat and no one can swim.

Nibbles exists because we strongly believe that rabbits and rodents deserve better. We would love to see a world where Nibbles wasn't needed; where every rabbit and rodent had a lifelong home, with high standards of welfare. But we aren't living in a dream, sadly covid and the post pandemic pet boom has only made matters worse. All rescues are currently facing an unprecedented number of requests to take unwanted pets and interest in adoption is at an all time low.

One of our biggest challenges has always been securing sufficient manpower. There is an unbelievable amount of work that goes into running the charity and it's not just about the day to day care of the rabbits and rodents. I recently posted a blog article about just how much work and time goes into keeping Nibbles open. Without enough manpower we simply can't keep on top of all the tasks and we certainly can't increase the number of rabbits we can cater for. To combat this, last year we took a huge leap forward with paid staff for the first time since we opened in 2015. The difference this has made to the animals in our care and the charity as a whole has been huge.

We've been able to run at full capacity throughout last year because we had enough manpower to ensure that all the animals receive the care, attention and cleaning that they require. We've all read horror stories where rescues have failed the animals in their care and I totally understand just how easily and quickly that can happen. There is always another animal urgently in need of help and rescues are under a huge amount of pressure to help every single one. We all push ourselves past what would be easy and manageable, but if one volunteer leaves or we can't afford to hire the required staff it would become impossible overnight. For example if everyone else left and I was here alone. I'd be facing an 11 hour day 6 days a week just to keep on top of the basics. That has nothing to do with caring for my own animals and doing my own housework, deep cleaning the rescue housing and finding time for maintenance and repairs. That's utterly impossible! And the animals will suffer as a result. Once one thing slips, it would become impossible to get back to top. I've always been incredibly mindful of this, and we have spent long periods of time with housing sitting empty simply as we didn't have enough manpower to care for extra animals, despite long lists of animals urgently needing help. The desire to help as many animals as possible must be curbed by the resources available to provide sufficient care.

It is for this reason we've had to make some devastating decisions, which will have a terrible effect on the rabbits and rodents urgently in need of rescue support. At our current levels we require 3 members of staff and 4 volunteers to ensure that the animals receive the care and attention they need and keep on top of all the admin, maintenance and repairs required. As many of you will know, I spent last summer laying over 300 paving slabs and we invested over £4,000 into the expansion project. We were due to start building and installing the new rabbit housing as soon as the weather clears. Once in place we would require an additional member of staff to provide adequate care for the additional rabbits, bringing the total to 4 staff members and 4 volunteers.

In July we were thrilled to welcome our first workplace apprentice and felt we had found a wonderful solution to our staffing issues. By providing a young learner with the opportunity to gain a nationally recognised qualification, helping them towards a career in animal care and welfare. We could support them on their journey and in return the animals in our care get the regular and reliable support they need. Jessica has been wonderful, and we were thrilled to be in a position to offer her a further contract to complete her level 3, starting in July this year. We also planned to offer an additional level 2 placement providing enough manpower to care for the rabbits arriving into our new builds towards the end of the year. We were set and ready to go.

Very suddenly and without notice or consultation the Welsh Assembly backdated changes to the Workplace Apprenticeship scheme. Changing the length of the course from 12 months for a level 2 and 14 months for a level 3, to 24 months for each course. In addition, they have changed the wage structure to a full minimum wage in the second year. This has literally tripled the funding requirement we would have to meet from over £7,000 to well over £21,000. We had the full funding in place on the old scheme, but are totally unable to meet these new requirements. This means that from July we will not only have lost Jessica, but we will be unable to add an additional staff member to provide care for additional rabbits.

Our only available option is to significantly reduce the number of animals we can house, in line with the manpower we will have available. We are unable to continue with our new builds as we simply won't be able to provide care for additional rabbits. We will also have to close a number of our current rabbit housing units and we have had to make the devastating decision to close our rodent cabin to new arrivals and potentially close it altogether if we are unable to find a reliable volunteer to care for them.

This is absolutely heartbreaking, so many rabbits and rodents urgently need our help and we're being forced to downsize at the worst time possible. We spent last year saving every penny possible and pleading for people to sign up to make a small monthly pledge towards our running costs, but sadly it simply hasn't raised enough funding and without funding we can't provide for the animals. We need to increase our monthly pledge donations by £2,500 a month before the end of June. I simply don't see how this is possible, after running numerous appeals last year and only increasing pledges by £154.

I refuse to let Nibbles become one of the rescues people read about after everything has gone wrong and we've failed the animals in our care. That's not why we opened and certainly not what we set out to achieve. With this in mind our only option is to downsize and leave more rabbits and rodents without help and in many cases suffering without rescue support. I feel constantly sick with worry over this decision, from the moment I wake to the moment I finally fall asleep. But without the funding available, we simply won't have the manpower available. We can't secure grant funding for staff salaries, in addition we are unable to apply for grants again this year as there is a waiting period before we can reapply. This is the only option left available to us and I'm so incredibly sorry to every rabbit and rodent we'll fail to help as a result. I would plead with you all to make a small monthly pledge to these animals, but I've already tried that with very limited results. Half our followers on Facebook pledging just £2.00 each month would allow us to meet our funding needs, just £2.00 every month, that's just £24 a year, and would change the lives of unwanted, neglected and abandoned rabbits and rodents. I honestly can't describe how I truly feel right now. I can't bear to think about the emails, messages and phone calls we'll receive about unwanted pets, information about serious compromises to welfare, and having to leave those animals without help. It's awful to know that we could have helped, if only we had the funding available to do so.

This is the exact opposite of where we expected to be this year. We'd spent 2021 carefully planning and saving for the future of Nibbles and in a matter of seconds it completely crumbled. We had absolutely no warning of potential changes to the Workplace Apprenticeship scheme, no one did. The results are catastrophic and a giant step backwards for Nibbles.

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