Feargal Sharkey reveals angling history in Welwyn

PUBLISHED: 16:22 25 May 2017 | UPDATED: 16:50 25 May 2017

Feargal Sharkey chatted to members of the Welwyn Natural History Society after his talk.

Feargal Sharkey chatted to members of the Welwyn Natural History Society after his talk.

Archant

Punk rock hero Feargal Sharkey visited Welwyn yesterday, revealing talents fans would never have guessed at in his 1970s and 1980s heyday.

The 58-year-old former singer of The Undertones spoke to the Welwyn Natural History Society about Amwell Magna Fishery, a top angling club he is chairman and archivist of.

Although the fishery near Ware, founded in 1841, is the oldest in Britain still occupying the same waters, the Ulsterman’s talk covered a much longer historical period.

He illustrated his talk with reproductions of legal documents written in medieval Latin in the 13th century.

In 1278, the former rock star explained, the Abbot of Waltham Abbey convinced magistrates he owned “exclusive rights” to fish the two-and-a half mile stretch of the River Lee [spelt Luye at the time].

“The Abbot was a crafty devil”, said the singer of Teenage Kicks, My Perfect Cousin and A Good Heart, explaining fishing for food was very lucrative, as meat consumption was forbidden on Fridays and fast days.

In the mid - 17th century, he continued, Izaak Walton described fly-fishing on the very same stretch of river in his classic book The Compleat Angler.

Since the fishery bought the rights in 1841, its meticulous records show catches the singer described as “almost unimaginable” today, such as a 13-pound pike in 1860.

Use of its water has caused numerous disputes and legal cases over the years, with no fewer than 18 acts of Parliament referring to it.

One passed in 1855 proved of crucial importance only four years ago, when over-abstraction was severely depleting the river, its fish, and other wildlife.

Happily, a sensible deal was struck with Thames Water and the Environment Agency, and the population of wild brown trout has since boomed.

These thrive on huge numbers of mayflies and other invertebrates, whose life cycles and biology Feargal Sharkey is closely familiar with.

Amwell Magna also supports an excellent population of water voles, which are routinely seen by fishery members.

But Feargal Sharkey ended his talk by warning that recent low rainfall poses a very serious threat to Amwell Magna and several other Hertfordshire chalk streams.

“The situation is getting desperate”, he concluded.

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