A BLACKBURN petshop owner has defended his business after being reported to Blackburn Council over animal welfare concerns.

Ashley Cook, who owns Aquamania in Higher Audley Street, said he has run the business in the town for 20 years without any problems, and plans to keep it in Blackburn for a least 20 more.

He said welfare was his priority and staff worked extremely hard to look after all the animals in the shop.

Several people had contacted the council to raise concerns after visiting the shop during recent weeks.

One said: “The enclosures are both unsuitable and dirty, the animals can often clearly seen to be in distress, some kittens in particular are being kept in a very upsetting environment.

“There were dead fish in the tanks, serious algae in some of them and the meerkats were infested with flies.”

And another said: “I was absolutely appalled to see two very large tortoises kept in what appeared to be a small fish tank that clearly had insufficient room to allow them any freedom of movement at all.”

But when the Lancashire Telegraph visited, the enclosures were clean and the animals appeared to be well cared for.

Mr Cook said he has had a license to run the pet shop for more than 20 years, since it first opened in Cleaver Street in 1994.

He said when he moved to Aquamania’s current premises he took out a 20-year mortgage on the 28,000ft2, and he hopes to pass the business on to one of his daughters when he retires.

Ashley said: “It’s a family business, I’ve invested everything I’ve got in it, my heart and soul is in this place.

“Every single person who comes through these doors we want to make happy.

“We have schools coming on trips, kids love coming here. We have hundreds of people through the doors every week.”

Gary Johnston, environmental health service manager at Blackburn Council said: “I can confirm we have received a number of complaints and we will investigate before we can comment any further.”