Page last updated at 02:12 GMT, Thursday, 19 February 2009

Trust frees land for allotments

By Sarah Mukherjee
Environment correspondent, BBC News

Allotment in Yorkshire (BBC)
Allotments, once considered unfashionable, are now all the rage

It wasn't that long ago that "allotment gardening" was almost a synonym for "unfashionable".

It was something that people did when they were too old to have anything interesting to do with their summer evenings, before going home to put their slippers on and have a cup of cocoa.

But, spurred on by Jamie, Gordon, Hugh and the rest of the TV cheferati, and combined with concerns about climate change and sustainability, there has been a dramatically increased interest in growing your own.

Up and down the country, old allotment hands are pestered for advice, as yummy mummies and other urban trendies rediscover the joys of peas fresh from the pod and just-dug potatoes.

We've taken the first steps to increase the amount of growing spaces available
Fiona Reynolds, National Trust

Those who sneered at the allotment brigade are now green-fingered with envy, as waiting lists top 100,000 nationally.

In some areas, it's more difficult to get an allotment than it is to get in to the most exclusive London clubs, with waiting lists running to 10 years - those that have not been closed altogether.

Which is why the National Trust is now weighing in, releasing land which could be used for up to 1,000 allotments on some of the best known country estates in Britain.

The land will be available to individuals or community projects at about 40 sites in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, ranging from small patches suitable for first time veg growers, to larger areas which could be co-worked by community groups.

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Members of a community supported agriculture scheme explain how it works. For more information visit the Soil Association website.

The allotments will be available in the spring through the Landshare website , which was set up to link those wanting to garden with those who have land to spare.

The Trust's director general, Fiona Reynolds says staff are very committed to getting people out in the fresh air growing their own.

"We already have allotments and active kitchen gardens at 50 of our properties and many of these already provide spaces for communities to come together and grow their own fruit and veg."

She said: "But there's a huge demand for us to do more. We've taken the first steps to increase the amount of growing spaces available, and we are working with Landshare to encourage other landowners to do the same."

One of the Trust's properties which already offers allotments is Hughenden Manor near High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire.

The former home of the Victorian prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, it attracts visitors every year who delight in the formal landscapes.

But the 18th century walled garden has been given over to allotments, raised beds - even old dustbins - all growing veg, and all proof that no matter how small the area, it can still be used to provide food for the table.

"We have community groups, people with mental health issues and many other people here" says Alison Mascarenhas, who leads the community gardening project.

"They find working here very therapeutic."

And Alison says once people are hooked, they come back year after year.

The manor has a full time head gardener and 60 volunteers, who are all ready with advice for novices. Even Archie, the pony in the nearby field does his bit - well, every veg grower will tell you about the benefits of a constant supply of well-rotted manure.

Experts at the Trust say the land they have released will be enough to grow 50,000 sacks of potatoes, or mixed produce worth about 1.5m. If the scheme is a success, they will look to release more.



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