Tenuous agreements, dating back to 1066, were adapted and firmed up over the centuries until the Small Holding & Allotments Acts of 1907 and 1908 established the legal requirement of local authorities to provide allotment land if requested by six or more people registered on the electoral role.
After World War Two, in the wake of the Dig For Victory campaign and food rationing, 1.4 million plots were producing good, honest, wholesome fare for a nation of gardeners. However, the boom didn’t last. Pressure on land for building accounted for many sites and the hard-working realities of growing saw numbers of allotment plots tumble to well under 300,000 at the turn of the century.
Now, at a time when folk are again looking to provide for themselves, there simply isn’t enough land to satisfy demand. Council waiting lists are full to overflowing. Our elected representatives are scratching their heads to find ways of reducing these lists.
An allotment pal told me that many plots down his way were cut in half last spring to make room for new people. A good idea he says, but not ideal. Historically each plot was measured at what they called ‘Ten Rods’. This translated to mean, “Enough ground to cultivate sufficient vegetables for an average family.” The trouble with subdividing already reduced areas is that new allotmenteers are given an unfairly small portion of land to work with. We all know that space soon fills up and you need extra.
My mate confided that he, like many others, has more than one patch. Ten years ago, even five, this wasn’t a problem. Councils were desperate to fill vacant places and pleased to have keen growers doing them a favour by embracing multiple plots. Actually, these stalwarts offer the most reliable long-term protection for allotment fields. According to the National Allotment Gardens Trust, conservation of sites is best served by having “every allotment plot across the UK occupied by keen gardeners.”
Now, having run-down or destroyed so many fertile places, Councils are desperate to fulfil their statutory obligations.
I’d have thought that the answer is to utilise all those spare pockets of ground in towns and villages and work with landowners on the outskirts to rent fields. Why not choose to let members of a community grow food on land instead of erecting petrol stations and supermarkets? It’s just a thought…
Copyright, Joe Hashman www.dirtynails.co.uk