Sunday, 29 September 2019

Bonfires on Allotments are a contentious issue

Bonfires on Allotments are a contentious issue, what with smoke and global warming, and residential neighbours that will blame allotments for the smoke even when it’s actually coming from a fire in their neighbours back garden four doors away, however they are a necessary evil on an allotment plot.

Some weeds can be composted, however fire is the main way of dealing with Perennial weeds, like couch, dock and hogweed or spiky thorny stuff like holly, hawthorn and brambles, and tree branches that too thick for the shredder. There are no Allotment Sites in the borough that I’m aware of that are lucky enough to have electricity to power a shredder.

The traditional advice for the  control of infected or diseased material like Potatoes or Tomato when blight hits is that it should be burnt burned rather than composted.

Having allotment fires produce a valuable by-product a natural fertiliser,  wood ash which is an excellent source of lime substitute and potassium or potash (they’re not identical but - scientists look away now - the terms are often used interchangeably), and potassium is a vital nutrient for crops, and also provides many of the trace elements that plants need to thrive. Wood ash fertilizer is best used either lightly scattered or by first being composted along with the rest of your compost.

The biggest problem with Allotment Bonfires especially with new owner who take over late in the year is that they don’t allow the material they have cleared from the site to dry out before attempting to burn it.

This is a photo from 2012 when I first took over my plot at Mill Green and I built pallet boxes to lift the material off the ground and allow the air to dry out the weeds, timber and branches of the trees that I had removed, and It took a great many nights to burn and get rid of it all but the fires took place a couple of hours before dusk in two incinerators and we stayed until the fires went out

With my second plot in 2015 the amount of clearance required that needed burning was much less and this time I built a fire on top of pallets and covered with a tarp to keep dry when I was not on site and removed the covering to allow the material to dry when I was on site and I managed to burn and get rid of everything in one go.

On Mill Green I have a couple who took over their plot that had not been worked by the previous owner and was left a terrible state. Neither of them drive or own a car and they got a friend with a van to assist them only to find out that the rules had changed and that they needed to book a van in at the local dump and only managed to get one load to the dump. Burning was their alternative but again they heeded advice and ensured that what they were burning was dry. Lack of resources to get rid of rubbish off a plot is another reason for allowing fires.

So with the impending total ban on fires on allotments that is already drafted in the and a decision appears to have been made without consultation with the draft strategy document without directly consulting the 2500 London Borough of Sutton plot holders I decided to undertake a survey of my own and simply asked the 55,000 members of four of the most popular Allotment and gardening forums on the internet what were the rules with regards having Bonfires on their allotments and here is the range of results I have received from 225 comments over a three day period.

I have listed them in semi order of restriction with Fires Allowed at any time at the top and a Total Ban at the bottom of the list.
  • Fires allowed anytime all year
  • Burn any day as long as there is no Pigeon Racing
  • Fires allowed anytime all year but not more than 3 on the site at any one time
  • All year as long as early in the morning or late at night
  • Open fires not allowed only using an incinerator all year round
  • Communal Area for Fire Committee light the fire on a Thursday Night after 6pm
  • Fires allowed on one day every month
  • Site size Incinerator with flue controlled by committee
  • Sundays Only
  • Fires only from 1st October to the end of March -  A Sensible Compromise common and what has been in place within the London Borough of Sutton for some time 
  • Fires Only from 1st November to the end of March after 6pm
  • Fires Only from 1st November to the end of March after 6pm on a Wednesday or a Saturday
  • Fires only from 1st October to the end of March but only using an incinerator
  • Bonfires only allowed in November & March (The end and the start of the growing season)
  • Bonfires only allowed from the 1st November until the end of February after 6pm
  • Bonfires only allowed one weekend in November and One weekend in March after 6pm
  • Two weeks, one either side of the 5th November
  • Bonfire Night Week in November
  • Bonfire Night or the nearest Saturday
  • Bonfire Night only
  • 2 Specific Burn Days a year in November & March
  • Banned on the site but Owner now provides a skip for green waste only
  • Fires Banned on the site

Where fires are allowed here are some of the restrictions 
  • Incinerators Only No Open Fires 
  • Dry materials Only
  • Open Fires only between 1st November – end of March / Incinerator only between 1st April and End of October 
  • Have to be attended
  • A communal fire once a month
  • Allowed from an Hour before dusk
  • Allowed 2 hours before dusk
  • No fires on a Sunday
  • Not allowed at weekends and Bank Holidays
  • We have to ring the local fire service to inform them we are having a fire on the site
  • After 6pm
  • Wind Sock on site and not allowed when active or pointing towards housing
  • No more than 3 fires on the site at any one time
  • Fire Pit Area Only no individual fires

Source of the list above was from 255 comments during a 3 day period to a survey question on

My hope is that the Gardening group and all the Site Reps will be able to meet with the Suttons Parks team and find a solution that allows for fires to continue to take place on allotments and also reduce the amount of complaints from neighbouring domestic property owners. 

That being said it is a pain when you are on a plot and are having problems with smoke from fires from their back gardens during the period between 1st April and the end of September when you are not allowed them on the other side of the fence!.  #justsaying  

Allotment Growers UK – 30,545 members
The Allotment Shed – 20,089 members
Allotment & Garden Club Mind Your Peas and Cues – 4,109 members
Grow Your Own Magazine – Grapevine – membership numbers unknown.

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