Scottish allotments face rising waiting lists post pandemic
Allotment plots in Scotland are in high demand with many people waiting “over a decade” for a plot says charity, Scottish Allotments and Garden Society.
An inquiry at the Scottish Parliament will look at the demand for allotments across the country and whether the application process is working adequately.
Vice President of Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society, Richard Crawford, said that waiting lists across Scotland are the highest they have ever been as numbers skyrocketed over lockdown:
“Some allotments have over a decade’s worth of people waiting. SAGS is working closely with the Scottish Government to get the Community Empowerment Act (9) more widely adopted by councils across Scotland. We need strong action.”
“Covid lockdowns made people realise that allotments help provide mental and physical wellbeing and now with the cost of food soaring we are expecting another surge of numbers as people wake up to the benefits of growing their own food.
The Community Empowerment Act allows for allotments to be managed by local authorities. The local authorities will assign land for allotments and manage the waiting list.
Each of the 32 local authorities in Scotland were contacted to provide their waiting list data.
From the 16 that responded, Edinburgh had the largest waiting list at 2,637 people. Glasgow has 1,829.
Some popular sites such as Nithsdale in Dumfries and Galloway has an applicant that has been waiting since 2000.
A spokesperson for Dumfries and Galloway council said: “The demand for allotments in both areas increased significantly during the pandemic.”
A spokesperson for Edinburgh City Council said: “We recognise that there is an identified need for more allotments.
“We are always seeking to identify suitable sites for allotments and food growing spaces as we recognise the need for further/additional opportunities for local food growing and we are committed to achieving that through a Food Growing Strategy and the delivery of our next Local Development Plan.
“As new housing sites come forward, we anticipate that more allotments will become available.”
A spokesperson for Glasgow City Council said: “Each site currently manages their site-specific waiting list, this varies dramatically across the city.
“Sites in the West End and the South Side with a high percentage of tenement/flatted properties and little available open space have unsurprisingly the longest (anecdotally, up to six years) and the most extensive waiting lists.
“The waiting time in some other areas of Glasgow can be as short as a fortnight.”
Committee convener, Ariane Burgess, said: “The Community Empowerment Act sowed the seeds for the provision of allotments throughout Scotland. But we already know that in some areas, this has failed to take root and flourish.”
“The benefits of allotments have been well documented, not just in terms of health and well-being, but also around intergenerational engagement, waste reduction and biodiversity. And the pandemic and the cost of living crisis have put these benefits in sharp relief.”
“We will be looking at the availability of land and how it is allocated by local authorities, but we also want to hear about what else could be done to make sure that allotments and their users can thrive.”
On the allotment
Laura Hunter has always had her sleeves rolled up and learned about gardening from her family. Growing up in Fort William, she and her siblings would forage around the local area and learn about native fruits and berries.
During the pandemic, Laura moved her family from her home town to a small town in Fife. When she discovered the allotments in her new area, she found a way she could keep a connection to her roots. Laura said:
“When I saw these allotments I just decided I wanted one. I wanted to grow my own fruit and veg, I want to be more sustainable.
“When I first came to this allotment, it was completely and utterly bare but I was just so excited. It was a blank canvas and even though it was overrun with grass and weeds I just saw a project and what I could make it into for myself.
Although Laura was fortunate enough to be assigned a plot quickly by her local authority, she faces additional challenges due to rising food prices. Laura said:
“You’ve got the outlay for seed costs, plant start costs, soil and compost and feed of some kind.
“People are kind, people share things and you’ll find it will work its way into your Christmas presents…which is always helpful!”
Her new passion has also led Laura to curate her own community on social media. By using Tik Tok and Instagram, she shares her progress in her allotment as well as tips and encouragement with other gardeners.
She added: “Instagram has been phenomenal. The community for growers, allotment people, gardeners, people who are just interested, people who are foragers…the gardening community on Instagram is just amazing. Everybody is always sharing hints and tips. Everybody is always cheering you on in your progress.
“Sometimes you can feel a bit deflated in your progress because things haven’t grown or they’ve been eaten by bugs…it’s just the world of gardening.
Through a combination of trial and error and the support of her new community – both in real life and online – Laura is slowly but surely building her allotment into her dream outdoor space.
Although she is not an expert she added, some perseverance can go a long way. Laura added:
“Things don’t ‘go wrong’ they just don’t always go your way.
“If I can do it, everybody can. Just get some seeds, get some soil and get stuck in.”