Allotments - Habitat Action Plans

Ref LH/2 Local Habitat Action Plan 2
Plan Author: Ed Stocker
Plan Co-ordinator: Communities and Nature Topic Group
Plan Leader: Norfolk County Council
Stage Final

Action Plan Summary


The Allotments Act 1922 (Section 22) defines 'allotment gardens' as 'an allotment not exceeding forty poles in extent which is mainly cultivated by the occupier for the production of vegetables and fruit crops for consumption by himself or his family'.

A more general definition would be ‘An allotment is a plot of land which can be rented by an individual for growing fruit and vegetables, for personal and family use’. (Greater London Authority 2008).

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Current Status

National Status

Allotments form some of the best habitat mosaics and wildlife corridors, often linking up with parks, tracks, hedgerows, churchyards and rivers. The contiguous nature of allotment plots is a key factor in their importance as habitats. They also act as an important habitat and refuge for hedgehogs, amphibians, invertebrates and arable weed species that have become deterred from gardens and parks as a result of over-tidying, fencing and building, and chemical use.

  • In 1919, after land was requisitioned for growing food during World War I, there were 1.5 million allotments – the equivalent of one plot for every five families. In 1996, there were 33,000 acres of allotments, representing a major decline from the war years and a decline of 43% between 1970 and 1996 (Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Allotments Habitat Action Plan, 2000).
  • It has been shown that allotments have, on average, up to 30% higher species diversity than urban parks (National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners). This is due to the wide variety of habitats that can be found, such as empty plots, nectar producing plants, compost heaps, grass areas, sheds and stores, and the boundary hedges and banks. For example, hedgerows, often left to grow tall, offer nesting and foraging habitat for many bird species and a variety of invertebrates, as do ditches and grassy banks with low maintenance regimes. Hedgehogs and grass snakes may also be associated with tall grass, hedges and compost heaps.
  • The addition of manure and composts to the soil encourages earthworms. Disturbed ground from freshly dug soil makes worms, grubs and insects more accessible to a variety of predators.
  • Debris, such as stored timber, rubble and old carpets, provides shelter for small mammals and invertebrates. As well as assisting a healthy population of the individual species, it also provides a food source for amphibians, reptiles and birds.

Norfolk Status & Distribution

Download the full report at the top of this page to view the map of Norfolk Allotment Sites

  • There are approximately 283ha of allotment habitat in Norfolk (based on desk top study 2011), including 43 ha of allotments within the Norwich city boundary, 12 ha of allotments in South Norfolk, 135 ha in Breckland and 10.5 ha in Broadland. No data is available for North Norfolk or West Norfolk.
  • Allotment sites are evenly spread throughout Norfolk with noticeable clusters in the larger urban areas and in the west of the county on the peat soils.
  • To estimate the total area and distribution of allotments in Norfolk, ordnance survey data was cross referenced with current satellite images and aerial photographs to see which sites still exist. These sites were plotted as polygons on the GIS map and the areas of land recorded in hectares (ha).
  • Some interesting results were found with many rural allotments being lost to development, neglect, or renting to local smallholders to manage as one field. In large urban areas the allotment sites have remained much the same as they were during the last OS survey, and in several market towns, new sites have been established, presumably due to additional areas of housing and the growing demand for allotments.
  • Rural allotments owned by Parish Councils appear to be the most at risk, as the land is often a major asset for the village, and its sale can fund other facilities such as play equipment, a wildlife area or village hall. It may also be the case that the rural allotments are in less demand as houses generally have larger gardens and people can grow more produce at home.
  • In large urban areas such as Norwich, Dereham, King’s Lynn and Thetford, there is high demand for allotments and long waiting lists. Sites are usually protected in planning by local development plans or policies, but are by no means safe from future development or additional pressures from new housing, including fly tipping from neighbouring properties, invasive plants, and cats.
  • There is very little scope for new sites within built-up areas, as available land is likely to be previously developed land or of too high a property value to become allotments.
  • Market towns would be good areas to target for creating new allotment sites, as the demand is evident and there is often land at the edge of the built-up area that may be owned or could be purchased by the Town Council or a community group wanting to run the site.
  • There is an interesting belt of allotment sites along the west boundary of the county. These are community sites that are owned or leased by individuals to produce crops on a commercial scale, including orchards. These sites were recorded as allotments on the current OS map, but they are not all community allotments and no longer have the habitat features that we associate with allotments, eg. Wooden sheds, compost heaps, water, rubble piles.
  • There are huge gaps in the data we have for the distribution of allotments. It would be useful to contact each parish and ask if they have allotments and their size in hectares (ha).
  • There are many reasons why a village would not have allotments or manage them for biodiversity, including possibly lack of demand, land, money, or practical support.
  • These are all issues that this plan can give guidance on, with the aim of improving the distribution and management of allotments for biodiversity through practical guidance and sign-posting to other groups who can help directly.

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Current factors affecting the habitat in Norfolk

  • Conversion to built environment
  • Insensitive design and management
  • Inappropriate planting
  • Pesticide use
  • Control of plants considered to be ‘weeds’
  • Insufficient information and lack of awareness
  • Impacts on other habitats

Download the full report at the top of the page for more details...

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Current Action in Norfolk

  • There has been an incredible rise in interest and demand for allotments nationally in the last ten years, and in Norfolk many new sites, allotment associations; community groups and council projects have been established.
  • Events such as Wild About Norfolk, Wild in your garden, composting demonstrations, organic gardening courses and events, apple days and green build days have all been run to celebrate and support the interest in practical ways that people can get involved to manage gardens, allotments and communal space in a way that benefits Norfolk’s diverse wildlife.
  • Norfolk County Council, in conjunction with the Norfolk Waste Partnership and Garden Organic, has for several years organised events across the county to celebrate Composting Awareness. These events included composting demonstrations and advice. Norfolk now has 170 ‘Master Composters’, who are volunteers trained as local composting experts to help others in their community to get composting.
  • The Norfolk Organic Group promotes organic gardening and growing and using sustainable resources. They hold monthly meetings with visits to member's gardens and allotments and attend county shows and local events with information and literature. Members can swap seeds, plants, books and magazines and keep in touch with organic issues. The group also produces a regular newsletter. There are also several other, more localised, organic groups and allotment societies across Norfolk.
  • Norwich City Council’s Community Allotment Scheme has been very successful at the Bluebell North site in Norwich. 2012 will see the laying out of a new site in the Marlpit area of Costessey, where people can rent smaller plots of land than on traditional allotments, and will also benefit from available tools, advice and plants. The site aims to grow its own sustainable source of materials such as hazel sticks and even bamboo canes, (which should be contained to prevent spreading).

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Action Plan Objectives and Targets


  • There is no national plan for this habitat and therefore no national objectives.


  • To raise public awareness of the biodiversity value of allotments and urban parks and their importance as potential wildlife havens
  • Promote the value of allotments as nature conservation areas and communal gardens as well as for food production.
  • To seek and promote protection of allotment sites through planning.
  • To encourage gardeners and those responsible for allotment sites to manage all allotments sustainably and in a manner appropriate to conserve and enhance biodiversity.
  • To discourage the use of potentially harmful chemicals in gardens and allotments and promote organic alternatives.
  • To encourage habitat creation on marginal land, e.g., ponds, log piles, food sources for over-wintering birds and hibernating habitat for natural pest controllers such as hedgehogs, amphibians and beetles.

Download the full report at the top of this page.

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