A lot to lose

IMG20220508174040©Stephen Lines

In the 12th of a series of articles by plot holders at Redbridge Lane West allotments – which are under threat from the adjacent gas works – Stephen Lines talks about negotiating with nature

Our current allotment plot is the fourth my partner and I have had, the second on Redbridge Lane West. On first viewing, it was clear the plot offered a daunting challenge. The site was characterised by anthills and craters from previously removed fruit trees. Half of the plot was covered in briars and overgrown with sedges and grasses. Carpets laid down to suppress weeds had a thick covering of soil, and white, waxy roots had established themselves among the weave.

However, it is a sheltered plot, bordered on two sides by a hedgerow of hawthorn, spruce, rowan, a young oak and a willow. To the rear of the allotment, a designated wild area is populated by crab apple, rose trees and blackberries. In spring, the blossoms fill the air with a heady fragrance. In autumn, amber leaves and ruby-coloured berries add a hint of warmth on cold, darkening, misty days.

I feel privileged to have the opportunity to work on this small plot of land, not just for the chance to grow fruit and vegetables, but also to do what I can to maintain the natural environment on and around the plot with as little human interference as possible. Allotmenteering is essentially negotiating with nature. There is no real choice in this as nature will always have the upper hand!

You can plan to manage the predictable, but you can only adapt to the unpredictability of nature’s whims. Last year provided opportunities to adapt. Late frosts damaged the bean crop. An unusual abundance of ants successfully harvested blackfly, which dined frequently and well on tender green shoots, drastically reducing some crops. A couple of hours of torrential rain last summer all but destroyed the potato and tomato crop. The usual suspects arrived punctually; slugs, snails and birds enjoying tasty green leaves and juicy soft fruits just hours before the perfect picking time.

Adapting to the unpredictable is something all of us plot holders on Redbridge Lane West have needed to do over the past months. Cadent, whose property adjoins the allotments, is seeking to reduce the number of plots to enable them to undertake necessary improvements to their gas works.

It has taken some time and effort, but my partner and I have now created a plot that we can work on and enjoy. Using physical activity to achieve something creative and to be able to take pleasure in what you have grown and what you have left to nature are among the main motivations for having an allotment plot.

It is for these reasons, along with the other benefits of being on a community allotment, that negotiations continue with Cadent, aiming to minimise the loss and disruption to plot holders on Redbridge Lane West.

To view the petition to save the Redbridge Lane West allotments, visit wnstd.com/sta