The Belmont Allotment Site
In the late 19th century the allotment site formed part of the substantial Sutton Lodge Estate. The estate was acquired by John T Overton in 1838 and he bought out the copyhold, which had previously been held by the Manor of Sutton, in 1866. Overton was a substantial farmer who by the time of his death in 1882 was working 350 acres employing scores of farm workers. He was also a philanthropist and supporter and promoter of public works. It is believed to have been during his lifetime that the site was first divided into small parcels and made available to his farm labourers for growing food for their own families. At a later stage some of these parcels were also made available for other local poor families as an act of charity. The site is identified as Allotment Gardens on a 1913 Ordnance Survey map. The estate remained in the Overton Family until the mid 20th century but had gradually diminished with tranches having been sold off for developmental purposes but the allotment gardens survived and at some point were passed to the local council to be held in trust for their continued original purpose. It would not be unreasonable to assume that the transfer would have included appropriate covenants or conditions to ensure this and this is popularly believed to be the case. A search has been made at the Land Registry but Title to the land is not registered there. LBS Parks Department have been asked to trace Title and any covenants but so far without any success.
The site currently comprises 138 plots and there are 80 tenanted plot holders with great diversity in terms of gender, age and ethnic origin. The plots are of varying sizes which explains why some tenants have more than one plot. All current plot holders are fully paid up members of the BAA. The site also includes a members’ shop, a members’ club house and a managed wildlife area of 0.3 acre. Inventory across all plots comprises, inter alia, 800 established fruit trees and bushes, 28 fruit cages, 68 sheds, 43 greenhouses and polytunnels and 290 raised beds. Plots have been cultivated for four or five generations so there is highly developed growing medium down to the chalk level. There is a very active social dimension to the community which, when partners, families and friends are included, comprises over 200 local people. There is reasonable vehicular access close to all plots for loading and unloading and there is a small amount of short term parking. The site is secured by 1.8m high metal meshed fencing around the entire perimeter and three padlocked entrances (one vehicular and two pedestrian). The site is well served by a number of adjacent bus routes.
There is an area of woodland of approximately 0.3 acre within the allotment site which is unsuitable for horticulture and has been designated by the local authority as a wildlife area subject to the objectives of the Borough's Biodiversity Action Plan. Unfortunately, for decades the area was neglected and had become a dumping ground for literally tons of rubbish mainly of a household nature. Discussions with the Borough's Biodiversity Officer in 2014 identified the full potential of regenerating the area in accordance with the action plan but the Biodiversity Officer did not have the resources to fulfil the vision. The BAA therefore produced an action plan for the regeneration which involved seeking a £5000 grant from the Public Realm fund and marshalling a task force of volunteers from the BAA membership. The grant was agreed by the Sutton South, Cheam and Belmont Local Committee at the end of 2014 and work started in earnest in early 2015. Prior to any works beginning the site was already well populated with bird species and provides a large range of habitats for nesting as well as food sources. The age of the wooded area and the availability of dead wood meant that stag beetles have been present since at least 2005. The site is also the closest large green space to the Belmont Pastures. This site is an important conservation area for the Small Blue butterfly and has been spotted in flight on the allotments. With this in mind the aim of the planned improvement was to increase the range of habitats on the site and the opportunity for community engagement whilst conserving the current biodiversity. Using the grant, a proposal was put together to the allotment community about three main areas that would be created. The woodland area would be largely conserved, with the addition of a meadow area and a wildlife pond. Our plan also allowed for our resident beekeeper to move to a bigger site with good access but out of the way of plot holders. Contractors felled two sycamore trees leaving the area ready for a meadow and pond and the pond was dug out roughly by digger. Throughout 2015 clearing the land and preparing pathways and moving logs was all done with a series of work parties by plot holders themselves. Each day brought the community together even more as the vision of the area was realised. There has been a huge sense of achievement on site as each new stage was completed. The project was expected to take two years of clearing and then a further three years for sowing and planting. The response of plot holders was so positive that the first three years worth of work was completed by December 2015. The woodland area now has a nature reserve standard walkway all the way through. It is already a site for native bluebells but has been planted with wild garlic and wood anemones as well as a range of other native species. The trees have had nest boxes for a range of bird species as well as bat roosts. It contains a seating area that looks over coppiced Ash and bramble that has bird feeders. The path continues on through the area giving a ten minute wildlife walk. We have created a large deep wildlife pond which measures 4m x 4m and has a gentle slope leading to a maximum depth of 1.5m. We know that the site has frogs, toads and newts from spawn in small ponds on different plots. We expect to see some colonisation in spring 2016. The pond has also been planted with a wide variety of native plants including large irises and water lilies through to much smaller bog plants. By the autumn of 2015 both damsel and dragonflies had been identified as well as water beetles such as Agabus bipustulatus and Gerris lacustris. The meadow area surrounds the pond and is approximately 400m2. We are on well cultivated soil with a bedrock of chalk so the meadow has been seeded with a huge variety of species covering both loam and chalk downland areas. There is a specific area of kidney vetch planted and maintained for the benefit of attracting the small blue to colonise the site. The meadow will be mown each year and the hay removed to reduce the nutrient content of the soil and benefit meadow flowering plants. The whole wildlife area has been surrounded by native, productive, hedgerow. Some 400 plants donated by the Woodland Trust UK. The species used all provide both nesting habitats as well as forage through the year. The site as a whole is also surrounded by mature hawthorn and ivy hedging which provides annual forage for migrating birds (eg Redwing - currently red status). The resident birds provide food for important transient species such as Sparrow-hawk and Peregrine. The houses surrounding the site are a nesting site for Swift which then feed above the site every evening in the summer months. There is also a known population of bats on and around the site.
In 2009, the BAA obtained a grant of £3000 from the Grassroots Community Development Foundation towards the cost of constructing a members’ shop on the site. Gardening requisites are purchased in bulk and sold in manageable quantities to members at advantageous prices. All profits are used for the benefit of members and improvements to the site generally including the managed wildlife area. In 2015 a grant of £1800 was made from the Public Realm fund by the Sutton South, Cheam and Belmont Local Committee towards the cost of a members' club house. Since the club house opened in December 2015 it has been used for a number of social events including a members’ Christmas Party and an event on St Valentine's Day to launch the start of the potato growing year. The building also houses our biodiversity monitoring equipment. This will be used throughout the year to help educate plot holders about the wildlife on their doorsteps, as well as allowing them to take part in long term monitoring studies. We have already run one session with the children of plot holders on the site on how to build a bug hotel and will run more. We also plan workshops for plot holders on how to create microhabitats on their own plots and how to garden in a sustainable way.