May I suggest a compromise? I think that having to decide between valuable wildlife habitat and allotments is a false choice. I would argue that we need both. Thankfully, there are food growing systems which operate according to nature's own principles, which makes them sustainable over the long-term and which incorporate biodiversity as an essential feature. This would in fact seem to me, therefore, to be a valuable opportunity to create a more natural food growing system, perhaps as a demonstration and educational project. Some of these systems were highlighted on the recent BBC 2 programme "A Farm for the Future".
One such system is known as a forest garden. It is essentially an edible landscape structured to reflect the development pathways and structure of a woodland but with a preponderance of food producing species. It uses biodiversity to create and sustain flows of nutrients and energy while at the same time providing food. By letting nature do the work it is also highly efficient -- that is to say there is a greater production of food per unit of effort than in a conventional vegetable plot. It can produce a great diversity of foods, such as nuts, berries, fruit, roots, etc. as well as, if desired, other useful products such as timber.
I realise that this may not necessarily respond to the immediate need for additional allotments but it could satisfy both the needs of wildlife conservation and local food production. If it was set up as a community project then all the stakeholders would have an involvement with its development. We are going to need such systems as our industrial agriculture becomes increasingly fragile due to its reliance on high energy inputs, and the more pioneers in this field there are the better.
A forest garden is one example of an approach to food production more widely recognised as permaculture. There are many groups who could advise on such a scheme, such as Naturewise in London or the Agroforestry Research Institute in Devon. I would be happy to provide contact details if anybody wanted to follow this up.
I would be interested to know your thoughts on the above and would be grateful if you could pass my message on to those concerned.
With kind regards,
Morden resident and ecologist