When I moved to Bristol I was regularly told that there were no allotments to be had in the city, they were all full, and until I did some digging around this seemed to be the case. It took a Twitter conversation to find out that allotments are available here as long as you're not fussy in terms of where you have one. So I took a journey out of the city centre to Stapleton, and looked around Stapleton allotments with the site rep and took on Plot79.
Now I knew this site was under threat, and I also knew it was Grade 1 agricultural soil, and if I'm honest I probably knew that I was going to get caught up in the fight for the allotments, but first and foremost I had my plot and for me, that was the most vital point.
Did I take much note of the Grade 1 soil status? Not really, until I began to get the most incredible yields from crops that had been really late sown and that, in all honesty, I hadn't thought I'd get much from. We had periods of real dryness and yet still the produce kept coming-lettuces and leaves, French beans, tomatoes, chillies and squash to name but a few, and buckets of flowers.
At this point it began to dawn on me that I was pretty darn lucky to have this plot and began to get my head around not just the fact that it was under threat but also that there were groups of people, such as The Blue Finger Alliance, working really hard to save this land.
The stretch of land heading out of Central Bristol on either side of the M32 is called The Blue Finger, and it's called that because on a map of soils land of this quality is coloured blue. The finger stretches right up into South Gloucestershire and is home not just to our allotment site, but also to Feed Bristol, an outstandingly beautiful community food growing project and to Sims Hill, a community supported agriculture business, as well as various small holdings. Look on a map of Bristol from years gone by and the land the allotments and Feed Bristol is on was called The Nursery and the history of the land is that it was always Bristol's market garden, producing food for the city. This history is phenomenol, and tells tales of lives past and of families that still live in the area to this day.
And yet in our greed for time all this could be lost. The planning committee meet next Wednesday, the 27th, to determine whether a bus only junction should be allowed that will take out 60% of the allotments as well as an enormous chunk of a Feed Bristol and part of the Stoke Park Estate that is on the opposite side of the M32. Not only will Grade 1 agricultural land be lost, forever, but this land is all Green Belt, which national policy dictates should only be built on if there is no option to build elsewhere, which there most definitely is, and much of the land has specifically been managed for wildlife and nature. The stunning wildflower meadow at Feed Bristol will be turned into a road with an enormous bus stop in it, and effectively what allotments are left will be part of a roundabout for a bus.
But, I hear you cry, they have to offer alternative plots, and this they are doing. However, the Allotment Act states that any allotment that is bring moved must be put onto land that is as good or better than the land previously used by the allotment holder, this is, of course, impossible when the land being moved from is Grade 1.
At this point I have to say far be it for me to argue that Bristol doesn't need a better public transport system. As a bus user and non driver I agree it needs to be high on the agenda. But, and here's the crux, Grade 1 soils make up less than 3% of the country's soil and has proven it's resilience over and again against drought and flood, holding onto it's structure and nutrient content when lesser soils would have failed. Since the a Industrial Revolution we have consistently used the same 38% of land in the UK to grow food and much of that land has reached and gone over it's peak health and is now struggling. We have expected these soils to produce higher and higher yields through the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and now many of them are starting to struggle, particularly where they have had to manage flood or drought. Surely we need to create policy to secure this Grade 1 land across the UK, and safe guard it for the futures of generations to come?
Imagine returning to a reality of local producers using this land and land like it in pockets across the country, to feed local food to local people. Is this a pipe dream? I think not, and more and more I am speaking to people who believe this could be the vision for food security in the UK. Let's put food growing at the same level and importance as transport and create holistic policies that look at transport, food production, health, education and wealth on the same level. And let's make specific soil policy so that these soils are protected going into the future.
Below is the link to a petition asking the Mayor of Bristol to help stop this. At this juncture I feel compelled to say that the Mayor cannot just stop this as there are contracts in place that would mean Bristol would have to pay huge penalties if it pulled out, but none the less it is to the Mayor's councillors we are looking to say no at planning committee. Please sign this petition and then please look at the following link, produced by The Blue Finger Alliance, which is the alternative vision of The Blue Finger, and what we would all like to see happen.
There are also some photos of the land below.