Angry gardeners lose the plot in allotment queue
THEY are the most exclusive clubs in Scotland, with thousands waiting up to a decade to gain entry.
But the clamour is not for access to the private schools, golf courses or private dining rooms. Instead it is for a humble allotment.
Scotland on Sunday can reveal that more than 3,000 Scots are facing waits of up to 10 years to be issued with a plot of land by their local authority.
One campaigner claims it is now simpler to get your children enrolled into the elite private school attended by Prince William, Prince Harry, David Cameron and Boris Johnson, then to get an allotment in parts of urban Scotland.
Such is the level of demand for plots that there are claims that individuals have even attempted to bribe and cajole their way to the top of waiting lists.
A countrywide shortage of allotments means that waiting lists can stretch to nine years in Glasgow, eight in Edinburgh and three in both Stirling and Fife. Gardeners requesting a plot in Aberdeen and Dundee can expect to wait two years before they are successful.
Jenny Mollison of the Scottish Allotment Gardens Society said the waiting lists had spiralled in recent years.
"It is easier to get your children into Eton then it is to get an allotment in Scotland these days. Waiting lists are absolutely huge throughout the country.
"It is terribly upsetting for people looking to get an allotment for the first time."
For decades following the Second World War the popularity of allotments plummeted as they became increasingly regarded as the anachronistic domain of pottering pensioners in flat-caps.
But now the burgeoning demand for environmentally-friendly, organic produce has seen middle-class couples clamour to get their own piece of land to tend.
Mollison added: "People are becoming increasingly aware of environmental issues and this means that allotments are more and more popular. The idea of growing your own food is appealing because there is no packaging and no food miles."
A survey carried out by Sags has revealed that 3,020 people around the country are on waiting lists, looking for one of the 6,341 plots currently in use.
More than 1,700 people in Edinburgh and Glasgow alone are registered as being unable to get an allotment.
Jenny Murray, secretary of the Glasgow Allotment Forum, said the waiting list in parts of the city was now at nine years and rising.
"I have had people crying on the telephone when I break the news to them," she said.
"Some people like the idea of taking their young children along to an allotment. But by the time they come to the top of the waiting list their children are already grown up."
Many older gardeners have given up hope of ever getting a patch.
One Glasgow widower said: "I'm in my 70s now and in all likelihood I don't think I'll live to see the day when I get offered an allotment. It is sad that Glasgow can win the Commonwealth Games, but can't provide enough allotments for their own senior citizens to enjoy in their retirement."
One Edinburgh allotment holder, Peter Wright, said the situation was equally dire in the capital.
"The demand for allotments in Edinburgh now outweighs the supply by a factor of about 150%.
"At the most popular sites people as waiting for as long as seven or eight years. The council daren't advertise allotments because the waiting lists would rocket still further."
Wright, who shares a site with everyone from young mothers to pensioners in their 90s, believes that a minority of individuals may be attempting to cheat their way into getting a patch.
"You hear all sorts of talk about people pestering the allotments officers to try to get to the top of the queue.
"When people are waiting patiently for years it is understandable that they can get quite annoyed if they think someone may be attempting to jump ahead of them."
Another allotment official has heard of people attempting to "buy out" existing allotment tenants by offering them sizeable sums of money.
The waiting time in Fife, where there are 200 people on waiting lists, and Stirling, where there are 60, is three years – while in Dundee, where 150 are waiting, it is two years.
But Aberdeen, which has bucked the trend by lowering its waiting list to below 300 in recent years, may hold an answer to the horticultural log-jam.
Donald Buchan, of the Aberdeen Allotments and Garden Society, said: "Now when people vacate a plot we divide it into two.
"Our waiting lists were previously very long, but this has helped to bring them down to around two years."
Allotments became popular in Scotland during the Second World War as part of the 'Dig for Victory' campaign, but since then the number of plots has fallen from 80,000 to just over 6,000.
Local authorities are required by law to provide allotment sites and Cosla, the umbrella body for Scotland's councils, has compiled a report which urges local authorities to acquire, manage and develop more land for allotments.
Annual rent for a full plot is around 35 and rules routinely state that patches cannot be passed on to family members following the death of a tenant.
Growth story of DIY food production
ORIGINATING in the 19th century, the term 'allotment' is found on maps dating back to 1851, with sites recorded in Pollok Park from 1895.
Many allotments arose out of informal arrangements between landowners and gardeners, while businesses such as the North British Railway Company promoted them as a means of self-improvement for workers.
They were first recognised formally by the Allotments (Scotland) Act 1892. Councils became heavily involved during the First World War because of a food crisis and during the Dig for Victory campaign in the Second World War.
Even public parks were used for food production. Dr Carrot and Potato Pete, the cartoon public faces of the campaign, became icons.
Nationally they went into decline from the 1950s and 1960s, reviving somewhat in the 1970s but by the 1990s they were still a low priority for the authorities.
Allotments are also popular overseas. In Cuba an economic crisis unleashed by the loss of Soviet subsidies in the early 1990s forced large areas of Havana and other cities to be turned into large swathes of urban allotments.
The policy has proved to be extremely popular and has been adopted by other Latin American nations looking to promote self-sufficiency and cut food imports.
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