Seabrook on... making allotments work

There are some rather misleading statements being made about allotments, especially on the length of waiting lists. Last month I travelled to Bolton, where there is a waiting list of 100 to rent a plot.

When I got to one site there were a number of plots waist-high in weeds, brambles and rubbish. Apparently, when rate-payers on the list are offered one of these overgrown plots they turn them down because "getting them back into cultivation is too daunting".

As the annual rent is £38 a year, I would have thought the council could have paid contractors to mow down and clear 20 plots and immediately got the money back from rent. This example is far from unique; in Hampshire and Surrey I find the situation is the same.

Some councils are leaving large areas on sites overgrown and then selling them off for building, using the excuse that they are unwanted. Why have these facts not reached the press?

Many first-timers who are encouraged to have a go at growing their own are swiftly turned off by poor advice, leading to failures and poor management of sites. Theft from allotments and vandalism are serious problems in some areas, yet police show no interest in taking action to catch the perpetrators. Surely, in this day and age, CCTV could be used to identify criminals? One set of allotments in Kent has greenhouses rather than sheds for tools because thieves are more easily seen in them and vandals cannot set them alight.

Then we come to advice: new plot holders need to be encouraged to crop conventionally, using every available man-made aid to succeed. Once they have experienced good crops grown by long-accepted and proven methods, they could move on to the more demanding organic, raised-bed, peat-free and no-dig ideas.

It is counterproductive to suggest they use these testing systems before the basics are understood and fully mastered. A cage to keep pigeons off should have priority over raised beds.


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