Zero food miles, zero packaging and plenty more: in praise of allotments

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Posted Aug 12 2020 by Sophie Paterson of Lowimpact.org
Allotments in Melton Mowbray

Monday marked the beginning of National Allotments Week 2020, at a time when the number of prospective allotmenteers far exceeds the number of available allotments. So what do allotments have to offer that means so many of us are itching to get our hands dirty?

Proudly flying the flag for all things allotment is the National Allotment Society, which each year runs a themed National Allotments Week as part of their effort to protect, promote and preserve allotments across the UK. This year, though, has been far from the norm, as noted by their President, Phil Gomersall:

“This year every week has been National Allotments Week, with more people than ever realising that growing your own food is a great way of eating healthily, getting some outdoor exercise in the fresh air and acquiring new skills. Plot-holders have also benefited from the contact with nature and the easy camaraderie on allotment sites, helping to retain their mental health and stay positive during these worrying times.”

So, by no means a bad list to start with, with the numerous health and well-being benefits of allotment gardening backed by plentiful research. As well as providing a great source of social connection for people in their later years, allotments are also a fantastic way to introduce the youngest generations to the delights of growing your own, reusing, recycling and interacting with the great outdoors, as Emma and her family showcase here in their video.

“Working a plot year-round means that allotment holders experience the seasons, witness the behaviour of birds, insects and other animals and gain an understanding of the ecosystem. This appreciation of the natural world also has the potential to inspire more environmentally aware behaviour by themselves and their children.”

The National Allotment Society

Allotments are also great news for biodiversity, beating city parks, gardens and nature reserves to provide the highest insect diversity of any urban habitat, according to research from the University of Bristol.

It’s clear that benefits abound when it comes to allotments – but what to do if you’re yet to secure one?

Putting allotments on the map

Demand for allotments has surged over the past two decades, and all the more so in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. It falls to local councils to meet this demand, although some sites are also offered by the National Trust, the Church of England and other private providers. For many towns and cities across the UK, it poses a significant challenge.

Recent research from the University of Sheffield’s Institute for Sustainable Food focusing on allotment space across ten UK cities revealed that land dedicated to allotments declined by 65% from a peak between the 1940s and 1960s through to the 2016.

What’s more, it is the most deprived urban areas which have suffered the largest losses to space previously dedicated to urban growing, at a whopping eight times the level of allotment land loss than the least deprived areas. There are hopes, therefore, that former allotments converted to commercial or industrial space could now revert to their original purpose, in order to begin to meet growing demand.

“Four out of the five cities for which waiting list data was available (Southampton, Newcastle, Leicester and Sheffield) would be able to meet current demand by restoring former allotments that have been converted to green space. On average, three quarters of this land was suitable for reconversion – with the potential to feed an extra 14,107 people. Almost half of land suitable for restoration to allotment space is in the most deprived areas – suggesting that the most food insecure communities stand to gain the most from such an initiative.”

N8 Research Partnership

The National Allotment Society have some timely tips for those of you eager to access an allotment of your own, as well as for existing sites keen to protect their valuable assets:

  • Allotment associations should consider protecting their site as an Asset of Community Value
  • Allotment Federations should work to keep allotments in the public eye, make sure they are mentioned in any Local Plans and be lobbying local councillors and MPs
  • Plot-holders should join the National Allotment Society and support their regional allotment network

Most importantly of all:

  • Aspiring plot-holders shouldn’t delay in signing up for a plot, as without waiting lists allotment authorities cannot assess demand

Here is a good place to start if you’d like to apply for an allotment in England or Wales and you can find full guidance on how to get an allotment on the National Allotment Society website.

If you’re lucky enough to already have an allotment or if you’re growing food in your garden, you can support research into the impacts of urban growing by taking part in the MYHarvest (Measure Your Harvest) project, run by the University of Sheffield. It involves measuring and weighing your harvest, in a bid to discover if and how urban own-grown food production makes a significant contribution to UK food security. Do get involved if you can!

In the meantime, we’d love to hear your stories of allotmenteering in a comment below.

Main image by Dan Roizer on Unsplash.


Sophie PatersonAbout the author

Sophie Paterson is a co-director at Lowimpact.org and NonCorporate.org, where she looks after promotion, social media, the blogs and more. A graduate of the School of Natural Building, she lives in Totnes, Devon, having previously spent a year living and volunteering on a nearby smallholding.