Lewes Town Council owns over 240 allotments across the town, including Highdown, Landport, Malling, Haredean and Paddock Road. Their new Allotments Service Policy for Tenants, agreed at a council meeting in March, prioritises environmental concerns. This includes encouraging eco-friendly practices on council-owned allotments, and prohibiting the use of harmful pesticides, including slug pellets, herbicides and non-organic fertilisers. Peat is forbidden because its extraction destroys precious peat bogs that bind up carbon and are crucial in reducing climate change.
Tenants must not use synthetic pesticides, vermicides, herbicides or similar non-organic means for controlling pests and weeds. They must not use synthetic fertilisers or soil conditioners. The use of weed-killers, such as Round-Up, or pest controls such as slug pellets will constitute a severe breach of the tenancy agreement. In the interests of biodiversity and addressing climate change, the use of peat – which is a non-renewable resource and one of this country’s essential carbon sinks – is not allowed.
The policy discourages bonfires, and allotment tenants are strongly encouraged to create their own organic compost. Wooden structures built to contain manure and other organic material are acceptable but they warn that treated pallets and those from the chemical industry must not be used.
The policy discourages the use of plastics: if used, for example for netting, they must be removed if they show signs of breaking down, fraying etc. Carpets can be used with permission, but they must be entirely wool or cotton and never have foam backing, which degrades and causes plastic pollution. Tyres are not allowed because of long-term risks to soil from the additives they contain. If items like foam-backed carpet, tyres or broken plastic items are not removed after a warning period, the council will charge for their removal and revoke the tenancy.
Ponds are welcome so long as they are well maintained, because of their great benefits for wildlife such as frogs and dragonflies that eat garden pests. They advise not having fish because they eat precious inhabitants such as newt larvae. There is much more practical guidance in the full policy, which you can read here. Tenants have to sign a new agreement every year, so this policy will come into action immediately.
Lewes Community Allotment
An excellent example of best practice in allotment-keeping is the Lewes Community Allotment at Highdown near the Nevill estate. LCA is run by a group of members who work cooperatively to grow food on an organically managed and wildlife-friendly site. Members share knowledge and experience, with new growers supported by more experienced gardeners. It is a friendly group and a way to meet new people in a welcoming setting. They share tasks and produce and, in more normal times, get together regularly to have lunch, sometimes with a learning theme.
The allotment has lots of wildflowers, herbs, ponds and wonderful views. Membership is currently £22.50 per year for individuals, with family and subsidised memberships also available.
For more information, see www.commoncause.org.uk