The 1990s onwards
Throughout the 90’s Crayfish were an increasing problem on the River Rib and have since reached almost epidemic proportions throughout the Lea Valley. In an attempt to keep their numbers down the Society obtained a trapping licence and Neil Adams the Rib fishery officer regularly trapped thousands upon thousands of Crayfish diligently setting and checking his traps on a daily basis. The trapped Crayfish were collected by a dealer from Billingsgate raising thousands of pounds over the years which went to Society funds. Neil has since retired as Rib Fishery officer and the Crayfish are now taken by a commercial trapper.
Early on in the decade the Lea Anglers Consortium was formed to bring all of the available towpath fishing on the Lea Navigation under one organisation, save for a few sections held by the L.A.A. and a couple of Club sections this was soon achieved. Fishing became available the length of the Navigation from Folly Island in Hertford to the tidal river at Stratford. Abbey Cross was an early supporter of this enterprise and has continued to contribute on behalf of members thereby securing fishing for the society on a block basis. From the start of the consortium long time member of the Abbey Cross, Terry Mansbridge, became involved and on his retirement from the Met Police became a full time administrator for Consortium. In the early years Terry organised the restocking programme and the building of many swims and disabled platforms. Through his involvement with NAFAC Terry also became heavily involved with the Moran Committee looking into the damage cormorants are causing to freshwater fisheries. Sadly Terry passed away in April 2006 a sad loss to Angling. Peter Green our current Chairman also had a stint at the helm of Consortium before passing the job onto Dennis Meadhurst; the current administrator and Abbey Cross member.
By the mid-nineties an arrangement was reached with the owners of the fishing on the upper Lea at Hertingfordbury, a popular fishery with members looking for a Barbel or two. The fishing on the Lea at Hertford Football Club’s ground was also leased. Not as popular as Hertingfordbury but with the potential to produce a good size Barbel or Chub there are also some good Dace and Roach to be had.
During 1994 – An additional parcel of land with fishing rights was purchased at Sawbridgeworth, this became known as Munn’s meadow and adjoined the Osier beds already owned by the Abbey Cross. The river became badly silted and needed dredging, in 1999 the society approached the Environment agency to ask if they would carry out the work as they had previously carried out similar work at Taylor’s Lake only to be told that the Agency had ceased to carry out any direct work and were now subletting to private contractors. They also suggested the Society may like to undertake the work itself.
The dredging was subsequently completed and the spoil spread across the meadow. No sooner was this completed than a separate department of the Environment Agency took exception to our dumping the spoil on the meadow, claiming it needed planning permission and furthermore we were in some way interfering with the flood plain. At this point the officer that suggested we carried out the work denied giving a verbal instruction to us. After numerous meetings the Chairman was summoned to appear before the Environment Agency and was instructed to remove spoil or they would carry out the work and pass on all costs to the Society. This would have required the spoil to be taken out by barge along river Stort navigation, as road access was impossible. Whilst this was going on the East Herts District Council expressed an interested in purchasing Munn’s meadow as they already owned the adjacent fields and wanted to link up with their land at Pishobury Park but couldn’t proceed until the dispute with the Environment Agency was resolved. Fortunately in one of the adjacent fields was a disused sand pit, large enough to take the dredging spoil. It was then agreed that subject to planning approval the EHDC would carry out the removal work in payment of which the Society would relinguish the freehold of Munn’s meadow to the council but retain a 3 metre strip along the river with the fishing rights remaining the property of the Society.
As we neared the start of the new Millenium the lease to fish the Kennet and Avon canal at Hampstead Marshall was secured, previously leased to the Red Spinner A.S. we took the water on after they vacated it due to their members not using it. This fishery soon became a popular for Abbey Cross matches and November 2008 was the scene of a dramatic rescue by Helicopter. During a match, member Peter Arnold felt ill with chest pains, quick thinking nearby members feared that Peter was having a heart attack and summoned the emergency services. An ambulance was sent but on arrival at the fishery suffered a mechanical failure leaving no option but to call in the Air Ambulance. Peter was whisked off to the John Radcliffe, received excellent treatment and soon returned to his tackle shop in Ware, eventually making a full recovery. As sign of gratitude the Society made a large donation to the Air Ambulance service.
In the first decade of the 21st century the Abbey Cross continued to grow in financial strength with a waiting list for new members that seems to grow ever longer. Non-attendance at working parties continued to be a problem for Fishery Officers organising fishery work. This was exacerbated by the decision to allow year round fishing on all the Society still waters, members were now able fish in the old closed season and were understandably keener to fishing than do work parties. Unfortunately this meant work was in danger of not being completed . As a result the system of logging attendance at work parties was strengthened with new members in particular required to attend compulsory work parties in the first few years of their membership. Non-attendance carrying the potential for expulsion from the Society. Attendance at work parties has improved but remains a constant problem to get enough help to complete important projects.
Taylors Lake continued to cause concern a large amount of silt was removed in the late 80’s, Siltex applied and trees cut down to improve wind action on the lakes. The low oxygen levels in the summer months continued to be a problem and had it not been for the use of an external pump to improve water circulation there could have been considerable fish kills. The refuelling of these pumps was a twice a day job seven days a week for sometimes weeks on end, this duty was undertaken by Steve May who unstintingly kept the pumps running. This situation could not be allowed to continue and professional advice was sought. The recommendation to install the two wind driven pumps sited on floats was acted upon, as was the removal of some lilies and further reduction in bank side trees. The oxygen levels of the lakes improved but the fishing results remain an enigma with big bags of fish one day and almost nothing on another. Improvements and restocking continue at Taylors.
An agreement was reached with Kings Weir fishery in 2000 which allowed 2 swims per day in the weir pool to be pre-booked by members of Abbey Cross, the Society paid an annual fee which allowed members to use these swims free of charge. Although the fishing in the Weir is not easy it has attracted a few members over the years some of whom have caught some outstanding fish.
The Kings Weir agreement was later widened to include fishing on the downstream river section. Requiring only the £5.00 key deposit money the fishing is paid for en bloc and includes the use of the car park. Four Society members are now Bailiffs on Kings Weir and continue to look after the members’ interest.
Following up on an Estate Agents flier the lease for the stretch of the Suffolk Stour at Stoke by Clare was agreed in September 2005. This gave us access to the long section upstream of the mill pool, the mill pool and downstream being added to the fishing in June 2006. This little river has been used for club matches with mixed results, however it does particularly suit the lone angler who is prepared to move around to find fish .There are rumours of elusive Stour Barbel in the mill pool.
Probably the Society’s biggest and most significant change in recent times came on November 9th 2005 when following an E.G.M. in June of the same year the Abbey Cross became incorporated as a Limited Company. This incorporation came from a growing awareness amongst friendly Societies of their potential legal exposure in an ever more litigious world and serves to limit any a legal exposure to the sum of the Society’s asset and the £1 per member guarantee.
The milestone of 60 years was passed in 2006 and as we begin 2016 it is hard to imagine the future challenges the Officers, Committee and Members will have to face to protect our fishing. Population growth, erosion of green spaces, water abstraction, anti- blood sports groups and global warming just some of the issues on top the current problems of Cormorants and Crayfish.
All of these things and others yet un-thought of will challenge the Abbey Cross and Angling as a whole, let us hope the society’s management in the future will have the foresight and determination of the Society’s founding members to meet the challenges.