Playing a straight bat with nature

Playing a straight bat with nature

Meet the cricket organisations cultivating biodiversity beyond the boundary

Nestled in the heart of Manchester, just a mere stone’s throw from the bustling metropolis of the city centre, lies a verdant and idyllic oasis – a true “hidden gem” of the area. This picturesque patch of green, which dates back to the grandeur of the Victorian era, is an integral and indelible part of the Whalley Range Cricket Club. 

The Club, founded in 1923, has proven to be a trailblazer in its biodiversity efforts, winning The Cricketer’s ‘UK’s Greenest Ground’ Award in 2021. The area where the Whalley Range Cricket Club is situated, was already lush, with mature trees planted in the past, and is sustained by the addition of parks, schools, and playing fields, preserving the greenery of the area. 

“We’re conscious of the fact that our green spaces in the city are precious,” says Mike Hill, chairman and groundsman of the Whalley Range CC. “We were also conscious that we have a large area of our own. The cricket ground was founded 100 years ago, which had mature trees and some wild areas on the boundary edge and slightly beyond. We decided to try and make these areas a feature of the club and enhance those areas which were already wild.” 

The club strategically planted a variety of fruit trees such as apples, pears, and plums, in harmony with the wild fruit-bearing blackberries, elderberries, and crab apples that grew naturally around the edges. By forgoing the use of pesticides and herbicides on the playing surface, natural grasses thrived, and the surrounding wild areas were able to attract and sustain a diverse array of butterflies, bees, insects, and small mammals. 

“I don’t want plants like mosses, for instance, on the outfield. We don’t want dandelions because they can be an absolute pain, but I’m happy with daisies,” quips Hill. “We’re looking to provide a combination of grasses and appropriate flowers which will enhance and not damage our ability to play cricket.” 

Animals are active at night which don’t cause game interruptions and it’s inexpensive to maintain wild areas to attract them. Low-cost methods include planting trees and seeds, installing bird and bat boxes, and building hedgehog shelters. However, not all wildlife is desirable. Foxes can cause problems by digging up worms and defecating on the ground. 

“Every day I go around with a shovel and I’m removing fox poo,” he chuckles. “What I also don’t want are moles and rabbits, but we have lots of squirrels, foxes and occasionally badgers. Bats, a huge number of birds including birds of prey and winter visitors. At this time of the year when it floods, we get ducks and geese on the outfield. We get the peregrine falcons, buzzards, merlins, sparrow hawks ….crows, ravens, thrushes, lots of seagulls, wild pigeons and it’s a fantastic feeling to be in that environment. We have flowers like daisies, daffodils, there’s fruit hanging off the trees. It’s a lovely feeling of benign, peaceful and a relaxed environment which drives membership. It’s a wildlife haven. We’re very fortunate we’re in a green area.”

An intricate relationship

In the last decade, however, the club has been faced with an unusual situation that they’ve not had in 100 years: a pattern of flooding in the winter and drought in the summer. That has resulted in them having to pump thousands of gallons of water onto the cricket square to prepare true wickets to play on. 

“This is not good for the environment. Climate change is affecting all sports, particularly cricket and cricket ground. If we keep the areas wild, we may lose a ball or two, but it’s not the end of the world. But climate change could well be.” 

Cricket, where the soothing sound of leather meeting willow echoes across lush green fields, is facing a delicate challenge in its intricate relationship with the natural world and biodiversity. As the sport relies heavily on bountiful natural resources for its infrastructure and operations, it has played its part in having a detrimental effect on the environment. 

From the use of pesticides and excessive water consumption to the emissions of greenhouse gases, cricket’s impact on the environment can no longer be ignored. The sport, in nearly every region, has felt the harsh realities of climate change with extreme weather conditions disrupting game-time, as well as compromising the wellbeing of athletes and spectators alike. In light of this, some cricket clubs are taking proactive steps to address these issues head-on; from implementing innovative rainwater harvesting techniques to undertaking habitat restoration initiatives, these clubs are proving that one can have a deep love for the game while also being a conscientious steward of the planet.

The Eight Ash Green Cricket Club finished a close second in the Greenest Ground award. Located on the outskirts of idyllic Colchester in Essex for almost a decade, the club has been committed to reducing its carbon emissions through tree planting, meat-free barbeques, replacing all lights with LEDs, and switching to a green electricity supplier, Ecotricity, which instantly reduced its carbon footprint by a third. 

“Like in life, you always need one or two individuals to champion something to make a difference,” says Sam Collins. “Our chairman Richard Parker is a very forward-thinking individual and has always been interested in the role sport can play in social improvement. And cricket is reliant on consistent weather; we don’t need good weather, just consistent so we can play games. It’s the young people at the club that were also sort of driving the initiative to try and be more sustainable. And we did what everyone really starts with doing is measuring and offsetting.”

The 70-year-old club is on public land. The ground is borrowed from the local authority and there are strict rules about trees and things that can’t be planted. 

“Everything is quite controlled. It’s quite a wild heath apart from where we maintain it as a cricket square. We have a set boundary and everything outside of that is wild and rough. It’s an ancient heath; it’s beautiful and wonderful, but we’re not allowed to get involved in that side of it. However, every year, the experts from the Essex Wildlife Trust do come along and do clearing of scrub and encourage coppicing and we turn up as a club to help them do that. So we’re taking things away, trees, branches, some ground shrubs and stuff under the guidance of Essex Wildlife Trust. We’re helping others who are experts, but we’re not experts ourselves in that sphere yet.”

Collins and his daughter, Anna, though, are leading the cause of measuring emissions and offsetting them. They’ve, since, made small changes to how they operate on an everyday basis. Car-pooling to games is the primary one, which not just reduces emissions, but also costs. Switching to virtual meetings rather than in-person ones, adopting energy-efficient lawn mowers and other equipment to prepare wickets and single-use plastics have been banned in the clubhouse. No plastic plates or cutlery is used in the kitchens now and vegetarian options have increased for meals during breaks. 

“Accepting that you’re polluting the environment is simply not good enough. You’ve got to be reducing your emissions. And that’s been our big drive.” 

Reducing flood risk

For the Fillongley Cricket Club’s Chairman, Stephen Gardner, the vision was to develop a second pitch, but in an environmentally-friendly manner. A subsequent renovation project in partnership with the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust included a variety of restorative and renewal efforts that had a positive impact on the environment. Gardner proposed and successfully advocated for a conversational approach to the development, which included planting trees, creating a wildflower area, restoring a lifeless pond, and building an insect habitat. 

Tree planting is a key component of Fillongley CC’s environmental plan. Members purchased and planted trees themselves from the Woodland Trust around the ground and at the bottom gate, where the public footpath enters the site. The initial pack consisted of mountain ash, silver birch, hazel, oak and hawthorn. The cricket club is at the top of a hill and water drains down into the village, causing a potential flooding risk in the Bournebrook after heavy rain. The objective of tree planting and pond redevelopment was to catch and slow down the water flow into the village. 

The result is a diverse array of trees and hedging around the grounds, including the rare black poplar and evergreen oak. A dedicated habitat area was also created with the planting of fruit trees, such as crab apple, pear, and cherry, to provide food and habitat to various species throughout the year. Dead trees were also left in place to support woodpeckers and insects. Additionally, a “dead hedge” was built around the pond to provide a thriving habitat for voles, newts, hedgehogs, shrews, toads, and frogs, which resulted in a reoxygenated pond, and duck and ducklings have been seen on the pond after years of absence.

Cricket Australia wasn’t too far behind in 2021 either with its partnership with Landcare Australia and 4 Pines Brewing Company for a campaign during the Ashes series in Australia. For every four runs scored by the Australian men’s cricket team, the campaign pledged to plant four trees. The goal was to plant 44,444 trees, plants, and groundcovers to restore Cape Jervis on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, with the help of local community groups. The campaign resulted in the planting of approximately 100 acres of native species, which improved biodiversity, enhanced landscape connectivity, and provided long-term habitat for endangered species such as the Glossy Black Cockatoo in the Cape area. The partnership has continued to expand with four additional campaigns planned to further the efforts of re-greening Australia. 

“This was a significant climate active partnership in the Australian sporting landscape. It shows Cricket Australia making a connection between commercial partnerships and environmental sustainability action. It supports Cricket Australia’s strategic priority ‘champion inclusion, positive social impact and sustainability’, gives agency to the voice of climate champions in the player group and aligns to federal government policy to reduce emissions, protect biodiversity and move to a circular economy,” says Annabel Sides, founder of Green Planet Sport. “This partnership can show other sports in Australia the possibility and opportunity for action to support nature that is aligned to our sporting culture and environment.

“From an Australian perspective, there isn’t a strong collective of work in cricket or other sports to support nature, yet. There is however huge potential; just imagine if all 4,000 cricket clubs in metropolitan, regional and remote areas took just one specific step to support nature this year, for example being powered by the sun, changing turf management practices to reduce pollution and save water or curating open space and landscaping with trees, pollinator plots or nesting boxes. If Cricket Australia can lead, using the partnership they have with Landcare and 4 Pines, to start action at a local level they could have a big impact.” 

The quest to propagate biodiversity within the realm of cricket stadiums presents an arduous conundrum, as many of these hallowed grounds are situated in metropolitan areas where opportunities for natural habitats are oftentimes scarce and limited. To overcome this formidable obstacle, the utilisation of green cladding, which involves adorning the façade of edifices with an array of flora, has grown in popularity as a means of introducing verdure to urban environments that are densely populated. Not only does green cladding enhance the aesthetic appeal, provide noise reduction and improve air quality, but it also holds the potential to propagate biodiversity by furnishing a habitat for a plethora of plant and animal species in urban areas, serving as a sustainable long-term solution to augment the endeavours towards sustainability. 

While the combat has begun, there’s a long way to go. The pressing and grave crisis of climate change has been deemed as “code red for humanity”, it is high time for the glorious sport of cricket to assume a leadership role and rise to the challenge of addressing this urgent issue. 

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1 Comment

  • Susan Westcott
    February 5, 2023, 9:11 am

    Hey Kritika
    Love your bat for the environment xoxo