Bowls: Drake's game under threat as councils cut greens

Despite its low profile, bowls is among the nation's most popular participant sports with 500,000 players across the country

Bowling has been a favourite British way of relaxing since Sir Francis Drake supposedly insisted on finishing his game on Plymouth Hoe before heading off to sink the Spanish Armada.

Now bowling greens across the country face a fight for survival in the face of spending cuts by town halls and pressure from developers eyeing prime sites for houses, supermarkets and car parks. Doubts have even been raised about the future of Sir Francis's historic seafront lawn, as Plymouth City Council seeks to cuts its budget. MPs from all parties are supporting a parliamentary drive to prevent the disappearance of a historic feature of many towns and cities.

Despite its low media profile, bowls is among the nation's most popular participant sports, with 500,000 players across the country. It is divided into two main forms – flat green and crown – but the codes are united in alarm over the steady fall in the number of greens in recent years.

Some are threatened by the squeeze on local authority budgets, which means councils are considering closing or selling lawns. Rotherham Council plans to reduce the number of greens it maintains from 34 to 18, while others are under threat in Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh.

Plymouth is reviewing the future of its eight publicly maintained lawns, which each cost £20,000 a year to keep in shape, with a view to transferring them to local communities. It insists that none will shut, but bowlers in the city are not convinced.

Other greens are at risk as struggling pubs and working men's clubs – many of which, particularly in the Midlands and the north of England, have a green attached – cast around for ways of raising cash.

The campaign is being led by the Labour MP John Woodcock, who was a bowler in his teens, after he discovered that seven greens had closed in his Barrow and Furness constituency since 1994.

Next month he will have a second Commons reading for a Bill that will give extra protection to bowling clubs whose greens could be put up for sale. They would be given priority to buy the greens – at their value as sporting facilities rather than their redevelopment value – as community assets.

The Bill also insists that a green cannot be deemed "surplus to requirements" under planning regulations if it is home to a team and a majority of club members oppose the sale.

Mr Woodcock said: "Bowling is an important part of community life for many people, giving them a chance to get together, and it keeps them active into old age. It is also an important part of our national heritage going back to Sir Francis Drake and even further back than that." His Bill, which is being co-sponsored by a Tory and a Liberal Democrat MP, has little chance of making it into law without government backing. However, Mr Woodcock hopes its cross-party support will prompt ministers to make relatively small changes to planning regulations to protect greens.

Recent research suggests about 420,000 people regularly play in England and there are thought to be another 90,000 participants in Scotland. About 60 per cent are men and three-quarters are aged over 75.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most