Today the Scottish government has published a very welcome consultation paper (media release & consultation paper) on the future of allotments. The reform and modernisation of allotment legislation will form part of the forthcoming Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill and this consultation is the opportunity to get the allotment bit of that bill right.

It is significant that the media release is illustrated with a tiny little garden shed and a wheelbarrow – the essence of the spartan and utilitarian idea that was embodied in the Allotments (Scotland) Act 1892 (original version here) which provided the statutory basis for burghs to respond to any “demand for allotments for the labouring population in such burgh….” Section 2(1) This notion of a small plot of land for the labouring classes to grow food has hardly changed in over a century (and of course the ruling class had no need for such legislation being mostly in possession of ample land themselves).

Meanwhile, in the rest of Europe, things developed rather differently. Sure, there are allotments like we have, but there are also other arrangements which provide fuller opportunities for urban dwellers to enjoy life in the garden. Which is why I have included what I think is a fantastic aerial view of my own vision of what allotments could and should be like – a far cry from the pokey patches of ground that allotments consist of today. Please do click on the image to see a larger version.

This is an example of the German Schrebergarten – suburban gardens which can be lived in over the summer and which provide a wonderful refuge for German families. See a previous blog for further discussion on the benefits this creates for children and families including a wonderful video.

My vision of the future is of land around our towns and cities devoted to food-growing, suburban gardens and forests – something like Frankfurt – and further out on the continuum, huts….

Of which more soon.

Meanwhile do respond to the consultation which is open until 24 May 2013.

UPDATE 21 APRIL 2013

The Scottish Government is holding 3 “engagement” events to allow members of the public to discuss the allotments consultation and how it fits into the wider work being taken forward by the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill.

Friday 3rd May Great Glen House, Leachkin Road, INVERNESS at 1100hrs – 1300hrs
Tuesday 7 May Atlantic Quay, 150 Broomielaw, GLASGOW 1400hrs – 1600hrs
Thursday 16 May Saughton House, Broomhouse Drive EDINBURGH 1400hrs – 1600hrs

Those wishing to attend are requested to email AllotmentConsultation2013@scotland.gsi.gov.uk at least 72 hours before the event to allow the necessary security arrangements to be made.


Lesley Riddoch and I enjoyed a packed session at the Nordic Horizons meeting on huts at the Festival of Politics this morning and the talk turned to how huts can be part of a revolution. Something of what this could entail is illustrated by watching this short film about two young boys spending time in their allotments and summer house.

The whole point of this post is to watch this video ……………………. click here to watch

(I am sorry – I can’t embed Flash video in WordPress.)

As close attention to the film will reveal and because Germany allows such urban hutting, children can grow up learning (with no need to be taught by a schoolteacher) about solar energy, growing their own food, rearing animals, building relationships with others, having substantial autonomy, expectations of equality and access to land and many other vital skills.

I am left wondering whether in fact whether such an upbringing contributes to Germany’s economic success. If girls and boys spend their childhood helping to build, maintain, manage and enjoy a small parcel of land upon which a community lives, they learn about empowerment, initiative, creativity, practical skills, relationships and so much more. A fascinating history of the schrebergarden movement can be found here including its legal basis in the land reforms following the 1918 revolution. There are over 1 million schrebergardens in Germany – four times the number of allotments in the whole of the UK (where if you dare to spend the night in your toolshed you could be evicted.)

Meanwhile the most that many of Scotland’s schoolchildren can expect is to get to go and visit a big estate or farm owned by an aristocratic landowner and be shown big tractors and and some animals.

The issues raised are very relevant to two Scottish Government initiatives at the moment. The first is he Land Reform Review Group (which has yet to publish its remit and about which little can sensibly be said until this is done). The second is the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill consultation which specifically raises the future of allotment law and might yet be a vehicle for legalising the expansion of hutting.

UPDATE 19 August.

Daye Tucker, a Director of Scottish Land and Estates finds my dismissal of how we link children to the land “loaded and toxically inaccurate” and “rather insulting”. I admit it is a bit flippant but it is designed to point up a deeper truth in the comparison between Germany and Scotland. Give kids 2 months spent on a schrebergarden and they will learn a lot more about growing food that a Royal Highland Educational Trust visit to a school. Rather to prove my point here is a report about the Dumfries and Galloway branch of the RHET who seem to think that taking big tractors into playgrounds is going to teach children anything. Note that this is a German tractor which was almost certainly assembled by workers who had grown up on a schrebergarden. Oh, and just have a listen to Andrew Dunlop in the film clip.

UPDATE 29 August

The story would not be complete without revealing what those schoolchildren above are actually looking at. Whilst some of the boys at the back are admiring the big green tractor, the rest are looking quizically at ….. a plastic cow (photo taken at a different stop on the same tour).