Dixon On ... Campaign needed to feed mind as well as body

"Why waste land on allotments? They are valuable brownfield sites for building, thereby easing the housing shortage. In any case, the supermarkets and others supply all the fresh food we need."

Views such as these completely miss the point for having allotments in a highly developed society. People are increasingly being crammed into high-density housing. Consequently, as individuals they desperately need the mental relaxation drawn from physical activity in the open air.

Allotment gardening offers this opportunity and more. The satisfaction from sowing seed or transplanting, culturing crops, harvesting and then eating them is a huge psychological and physical balm. The benefits far exceed those of any pills doled out by doctors. Perhaps high-density housing developments should carry requirements for land being set aside for allotments.

There is ample evidence associating gardening with improved mental and physical well-being and welfare. Linking allotment gardening with the NHS offers opportunities to improve people's health. A modernised "Dig for Victory" campaign is needed, this time feeding the mind as well as the body.

Horticultural knowledge and instruction are essential for such a campaign's success. We have this available in the RHS, botanic gardens and horticultural colleges. What is lacking is a coherent link with the medical and social services, especially in the larger conurbations.

On offer is a much healthier population and reduced NHS and social services expenditure. Making this campaign happen requires co-operation between the silos constituting the megalithic health services, local authorities and central Government.

Organisations such as the RHS, HTA, botanic gardens, educators and the industry generally would doubtless collaborate. Maybe Westminster's All-Party Parliamentary Gardening & Horticulture Group could launch the campaign.

Professor Geoffrey Dixon is managing director of GreenGene international

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