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Cambridge Allotments 2000


Allotments Habitat Action Plan

By Helen Hepburn
Biodiversity Steering Group for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough

A draft for our booklet

Comments please to

The Allotments Habitat Action Plan (HAP) has been through its consultation process and on the 1st February 2000, along with nineteen other HAP’s, was ratified by the Biodiversity Steering Group for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

The Allotment HAP defines and details the historic development of allotments. It shows how allotments were first recorded in the middle ages as land bequeathed by landowners to poor countrymen for cultivation and much later, following the enclosure of common land, cottagers were sometimes compensated for their loss of rights to common land by the ‘allotment’ of small areas of land.

The Great Enclosure Act of 1845 made provision for the landless poor in the form of ‘field gardens’ and allotments were virtually confined to rural areas.

The urban allotment has a rather different history than the rural allotment, springing from the traditions of the Pleasure Garden or Guinea Garden as well as the tradition of cultivation for provision of food for the poor.

In 1919, after land was requisitioned for growing food during the 1st World War and there were 1.5 million allotments, one plot for every five families, the ‘Land Settlement Facilities Act’ made it clear that all members of the community were eligible to take up allotment gardening. In 1996 there were 33 000 acres of allotments, representing a major decline from the war years and a decline of 43% between 1970 and 1996.

Allotments cover a notable portion of land in towns and cities and they therefore make a significant contribution to the urban environment. They are a community facility, and their present and future role in the contribution to biodiversity are inextricably linked to how they are used. They are quite distinct from other unbuilt areas, as they are usually on public land where local people have control over planting, cultivation and maintenance regimes as long as they comply with leasing agreements.

Evidence from the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners show that allotments have on average an up to 30% higher species diversity than urban parks. They are a haven for wildlife in what could be an otherwise hostile urban environment.

Hedgerows, often left to grow tall, offer refuge for birds and invertebrates as do ditches and grassy banks with low maintenance regimes. Unused plots are often a haven for wildlife, while some tended plots act as seed banks for rare vegetable species. The grassy paths between the plots are often managed in a different way than the boundary. Compost heaps also are a haven for insects and invertebrates and overwintering invertebrates and mammals.

Invertebrates are associated with tussocky grasses, hedges and wildflowers found on the boundaries, and include butterflies, bumble bees and other beneficial insects. Birds such as tree sparrow, common sparrow, thrush and mistle thrush, finches, tits and robins can all find nesting and foraging habitat in hedges. Foxes are also known to make use of hedgerows.

Disturbed ground from freshly dug soil makes worms, grubs and insects more accessible and is especially good for birds such as blackbird, pied wagtail, robins and starling etc. The addition of manure and composts to the soil encourages earthworms. Hedgehogs and grass snake may also be associated with tall grass, hedges and compost heaps.

The undisturbed margins next to hedgerows provide nesting sites for small mammals such as mice and field voles which in turn attract raptors such as kestrel. Next to rivers and ditches field margins create the ideal habitat for overwintering amphibians such as frogs, toads, newts, great crested newts and offer nesting and foraging sites for water voles.

Wildlife is important for allotment holders - not just for its own sake and the pleasure that seeing wild animals and plants bring - but also because they pollinate vegetable crops, they predate destructive insects (think about ladybirds and lacewings eating aphids) and they speed up the process of decomposition for compost heaps. Wildlife is necessary in villages, towns and urban areas too - for people to look at and enjoy - but also as a contribution to the ‘health’ of an area.

Allotments are important for growing vegetable and fruit but they, and the wildlife they support, are under threat. Demand for development land can lead to the loss of allotments. The use of inorganic fertilisers, weedkillers and pesticides harm wild flowers and reduce invertebrate populations. Inappropriate management of boundaries, communal areas etc can all have a detrimental effect on wildlife.

To help increase biodiversity the allotment holders are invited to enter into a partnership with other organisations and agencies to help achieve the objectives and long term targets set out in the Allotments HAP. The objectives include promoting the benefits of increasing biodiversity for allotment holders and maximising wildlife potential, to increase organic food production, halt the loss of allotments and ensure that there is allotment provision for new developments.

The five year and ten year targets which help achieve the objectives are:


bulletManagers of allotments to be implementing widely agreed wildlife friendly management plans on 50% of allotments


bulletCommunity composting schemes on 30% of allotments


bullet30% of Local Authority excess bark chipping to be used on community composting schemes


bulletCreate uncultivated beetle banks on 15% of allotments


bulletProvide buffer zones adjacent to water courses, woodland and other sites of high biodiversity value


bulletPromote individual schemes by individual allotment holders on their own plots




bulletManagers of allotments to be implementing widely agreed wildlife friendly management plans on 75% of allotments


bulletCommunity composting schemes on 50% of allotments


bullet60% of Local Authority excess bark chippings to be used on community composting schemes


bulletCreate uncultivated beetle banks on 30% of large allotments.


In order to achieve all the objectives and targets for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough there is a three year programme of actions, which lists the organisations and agencies requested to carry out the actions. The actions which affect Allotment Societies, and where allotment societies and individual allotment holders are asked to join the partnership and help promote biodiversity, are listed below.




Produce a strategy for the management of allotments integrating nature conservation with crop production AS, GBP, Wi T




Promote allotments for communal gardens and nature conservation areas as well as for food production AS, GBP, WiT, LA * * *
Produce guidance for best management practice between local authorities or other allotment provider and allotment societies AS, WiT, LA    


Lobby for better security of tenure and protection for allotment holders AS * * *
Lobby for wider definition of an allotment under the 1922 Allotments Act to include all forms of gardening other than by way of trade or business and for increased security of tenure AS, wit, EN * * *
Promote allotments as a social and healthy pastime AS, LA * * *
Create farmer’s markets with allotment holder’s involvement AS, LA * * *
Encourage set aside of areas within allotments to promote biological diversity AS, EN, GBP, Wit, LA    








Manage all hedges to increase biodiversity LA, AS * * *
Create standard trees in 50% of hedgerows where appropriate LA, AS * * *
Identify valuable habitat and protect/buffer where appropriate GBP, Wit, AS * * *
Employ nature conservation techniques to increase predators eg bat boxes, bird boxes, ponds, beetle banks, lacewing boxes etc AS, GBP, Wit * * *
Use 20% of local authority excess bark and wood chippings as a compost source AS, LA * * *






Develop partnership approach AS, GBP, Wit, LA * * *
Provide leaflets and guidance on the value of allotments for food production, community gardens and nature conservation AS, LA, GBP, Wit, EN    


Provide leaflets and guidance on best management practice for hedgerows, standard/pollard trees, set aside allotments, ditches, banks and compost heaps AS, GBP, Wit, EN, LA    




Provide leaflets and guidance on best management for species selection eg great crested newt AS, GBP, Wit    






















Guidance to be based on local best practice to be published on an ad-hoc basis. Major publicity exercises to be co-ordinated by the BAP Co-ordinator ALL, BAP Co-ordinator    




Seek competition based on best allotment for nature conservation value in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough ALL, BAP Co-ordinator * * *

The BAP Steering group is made up of many partners, and it is the responsibility of the partnership to achieve the targets. The BAP Steering Group acknowledge that each individual partner or organisation may not be able to achieve all the actions. However they do request that wherever practical, consideration is given to increasing biodiversity by carrying out the actions, so that we can proceed towards the objectives and targets set by the LHAPs. Some of the partners listed in the allotments HAP are as follows:

AS Allotment Societies

LA Local Authorities

CCC Cambridgeshire County Council

Wit Wildlife Trust

EN English Nature

EA Environment Agency

GBP Greenbelt Project for Cambridge

Helen Hepburn

Biodiversity Steering Group for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough



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Latest update 03/03/00