Growers Hub

Bristol Allotment Update - have we all lost the plot?

Written by
Ed Morrison
June 12, 2023

As the situation in Bristol / Leigh Woods develops further we wanted to put out some comms around what’s happening and try and set some narratives straight because of some local opposition and differing viewpoints on what agricultural land should be used for.

Food production in the UK is at an all time low, where as a nation we import over 80% of the food consumed. This leaves us in a vulnerable position if we do not lean into more localised ways of producing food and feeding the population.

The area we are launching allotments on has been used to graze cattle and grow mixed crops in the past, it is classified as modified grassland with a primary function that is agricultural use. Allotments and food production are defined within horticulture which fit into the legal definition of agriculture.

Before we took over the tenancy for the field the farmer requested whether they could plough it to plant wheat, we declined this offer because it was counter intuitive to our no-dig ethos. We would be incredibly surprised if people who lived near this field would protest against the farmer doing this.

As part of our plans for building a site to provide a space for humans and nature to thrive we wanted to ensure that we had a positive effect on the location's biodiversity. So we got help from local ecologists to understand the area and any wildlife that may be present and how we can do positive things to boost biodiversity.

What we actualised from the study:

Biodiversity net gains

- Roots would create a biodiversity net gain of 25% for terrestrial and 100% for linear habitats with our ecologically sensitive management plans.

- We would be planting over 1,800 meters of native British hedgerow, which once existed through this historic site (50% of British native hedgerows have been lost since 1950’s)

- Introduce more shrubs and greater biodiversity of native flora to 20% of the site

- Establish even more native woodland at the bottom of our site which borders Leigh Woods


- Bats roosting, the closest record to the site is 250m-475m. We are going to be putting up bat boxes in our native woodland area to create further habitats for them and we will be making sure there are piles of cow manure to increase feeding zones for horseshoe bats.

- Greater crested newts closest recorded habitat was 1.9km away. We want to make a natural pond on our site to further link up the habitat opportunities for them.

- Hedgehogs closest record is 300m* of our site and we will be implementing hedgehog homes on our mixed wildflower and fruit/nut orchard to provide them with more places to live and forage.

- Lapwings closest record is 200m from the site where there are over 40+ acres of agricultural land for them to make habitats in.

- We will be adding in wild bee hives to encourage more native bees to the site and provide more habitats.

300m equates to 3 football pitches*

We are confident that if the UK is going to find a progressive way forward to create more spaces for food growing, then there needs to be more acceptance of growing projects on green belt land. A majority of greenbelt land has been used for food production since time began and it shocks us to receive such a backlash from some local residents who simply don’t want a new age chemical free progressive allotment site opening near them, and unfortunately do not consider the people of Bristol as part of their local area despite living only 1.3 miles from Bristol.

What is going to happen to our countries food security and it’s proud horticultural heritage if allotment sites continue to shut at a rate of 6% a year? People will continue to loose access to spaces to grow, connect with one another and re-learn ancestral skills that have been stolen from us cause of globalised food chains.

If you take issue with an allotment, then the same mindset can be applied to all market gardens and growing operations within the UK that all require similar infrastructure. Are we going to switch to a 100% imported diet and export our problems as we have done for the last 70 years.

We need to be taking steps forward into a progressive future rather than clinging onto old ways that paralyse us and farmers from diversifying, perpetuating a state of stasis and hopelessness within the agricultural sector.

There are many stories circulating about Roots and how we are progressing without a perceived perception of approval from North Somerset council. It is within agricultural law to put up a fence, put compost on a field, and to operate the necessary machinery in order to pull this project together. We decided to do some preliminary works that fall well within agricultural means and this has caused a stir within the local area.

The deadline for North Somerset Council to respond was 23rd March and they asked for an extension at 4.01pm that day. We agreed to two weeks which was also not met. On advice from our planners and solicitors, we have opted to undertake the necessary works to open the site as they fall well within permitted development rights for agriculture. We passionately believe that growing is for everyone and we are dedicated to opening up more private land to local people to grow their own food, increase health, happiness and food security.

1) No digging needed! Your Back Will Thank You

Yes, it’s true. You’ll be picking bountiful harvests without needing to dig, turn or fork the earth! Your back will thank you because digging takes about 2 x times longer than No dig. Beds are made by covering your growing ground in cardboard and placing nutrient rich compost on top - giving you a surface that’s ready to plant straight away!

2) Less weeding 

Weeds get suppressed by the layer of cardboard and compost, they then die off because of no sunlight! If soil stays undisturbed then weeds and their seeds are more likely to stay locked into the ground instead of sprouting when disturbed on a traditionally dug allotment.

3) Feeding the soil creates healthier plants

By building yearly layers of organic matter and not disturbing the soil’s ecosystem, you will increase the amount of good microbial activity. Good microbes help plants access nutrients and water, so the healthier your soil - the healthier your plants! 

4) You’ll do less watering!

No dig beds retain moisture better because you’re introducing organic matter, not taking it away. By keeping the soil’s ecosystem in-tact and encouraging bacteria, fungi and worms to do their thing will create better layers of soil that save water for when your plants need it - instead of bare dug ground that leaks moisture! Water is a precious resource and no dig helps us make the most of every drop!

5) Higher Yields Are Scientifically proven!

No dig has been proven to produce significantly higher yields by Charles Dowding over the last 9 years at his Homeacres Farm. He has been weighing the results of identically planted dug vs no dig beds and over that time the results are 100’s of kg’s greater.

6) Reduce Single-Use Plastic! <3 The Planet!

Every harvest throughout the seasons means you’ll be totally cutting out vast amounts of single use plastic that is used in supermarket produce! The supply chains we rely on use way too much making no dig a great way to start reducing personal consumption of single use plastic.

7) Experience Less pests & diseases

The result of great soil health by the no-dig method helps good bacteria, insects and animals thrive! Using natural methods of pest control we can learn to work with nature instead of against it - a single teaspoon of healthy rich soil can contain up to 1 billion bacteria!.

8) You’ll help fungal networks and they’ll help your plants grow

Fungi are a super important part of running a productive healthy patch. When soil is full of life and undisturbed there will be miles and miles of fungal networks beneath your feet trading nutrients with each other and your plants.

9) Save time and be 40% more productive by no dig!

When you don’t need to spend hours and hours digging, turning and prepping the soil for planting, you’ll be able to spend it doing the fun creative side of gardening - planning, planting, pruning your patch to create your own edible zen garden.

As a bonus you will also feel the mental and physical boost of growing your own

Gardening and feeding yourself with incredibly fresh nutrient dense food has amazing positive side effects for both people and the planet. As time goes by you’ll feel closer and more at one with nature.