January 11, 2023 - 4:50pm

This week the Telegraph reported that Colehill Cricket Club in Dorset, formed in the 1920s, ‘could be forced to fold following complaints from a neighbour about flying cricket balls’.

Pressure from a small group of recent neighbours, irritated by the balls hitting their fences and landing in their gardens, has resulted in adult cricket matches being suspended for 2023, after previous plans to install netting and only hitting sixes on the other side of the ground were defeated. The club has been there for over 100 years; the outraged neighbours since 2014.

Not content with just ‘preserving the character of their area’, it seems, NIMBYs are now actively seeking to destroy it.

Colehill’s is a story that has been read before. Croft Circuit, in Richmondshire, was hit with a huge fine for noise pollution, and a yearly 40-day limit relating to on-track activity, despite being used as a racing circuit since 1949. Likewise, in Manchester, neighbours of West Didsbury and Chorlton AFC objected to the granting of an alcohol licence — despite the club already selling alcohol on match days — and made noise complaints. This latter grievance despite the club being there since 1996.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago might concern slightly more serious matters than the vaguely Wodehousian silliness of the Colehill story. Yet the great Russian author described how the secret police would make their arrests using similarly minute steps, each of which ‘consists of a series of incidental irrelevancies, of a multitude of things that do not matter, and there seems no point in arguing about any one of them individually.’ The question is, as Solzhenitsyn asked, ‘At what exact point, then, should one resist?’

Each of these steps is an infinitesimally small incident, a 500-word local news article of little interest to the nation. But each one is worth resisting. Rural England is blessed with thousands of these clubs, each one a key part of what Michael Sandel calls ‘our common life’. They provide a strong sense of belonging and an all too rare opportunity to form an in-person, concrete community.

Last year the French government passed a law protecting what Joël Giraud, the Minister for Rural Affairs, called the ‘sensory heritage’ of its rural areas, in other words the typical sounds and smells of the countryside. This was exemplified by Maurice the rooster, who became a national hero when he and his owner were sued for noise pollution by neighbours, who were woken up on their occasional trips to their second home in Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron by his dawn chorus.

Perhaps it’s time we offered the crack of leather on willow the same protection as Maurice the rooster’s morning call. We cannot allow NIMBYs, whose merit is loudly celebrated by the doubtful evidence of their own applause, to place their future in peril. All because they failed to consider the consequences of buying a house with a backyard on the boundary fence of a century-old cricket club.