Friday, 5 November 2010

People are hungry for land

Will there be enough land available in Britain if we have to grow more of our own fruit and vegetables during the 21st Century?

That's the question I posed in my last post which invoked Winston Churchill's war cry, 'We must plough up the land'. 

The common perception says land is scarce in Britain. Journalists like Kevin Cahill and Jason Cowley argue this perception is based on a myth.  

Cahill says there's plenty of land that could be cultivated for food. The problem is Britain's land is owned and controlled by a tiny minority.

The United Kingdom consists of 60 million acres, says Cowley. A massive 41 million acres are defined as "agricultural". Mountains, forests and rivers account for another 15 per cent, much of which is owned by the Crown for use by the Ministry of Defence.

That leaves four million acres where most of Britain's 61 million people live. Increasing congestion in this 'urban plot' consequently inflates already expensive land and property prices.

So who owns Britain? Almost 70% of Britain's land is owned by 0.6 per cent of the population. Put more starkly, 41 million acres are owned by 158,000 families. Some 24 million families live in the four million urban acres.

Only Spain rivals Britain for such an unequal concentration of land ownership. Britain's wealthiest landowner is the Duke of Westminster, the owner of a land portfolio that includes Belgravia and Mayfair. 

Urban agriculture is chiefly confined to the 250,000 allotments that remain out of the 1,400,000 allotments created in World War II. 
True, it's a big decrease but another statistic suggests the loss of allotments is far from being the end of Britain's land ownership saga.
"More than 100,000 people are on the waiting lists for any that become vacant, and the queue is still growing," says Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall. "People are hungry for land."

Paul Coleman, London, November 2010.

The coming battle over land and property, by Jason Cowley (additional reporting by Duncan Robinson), New Statesman, 18 October, 2010.
Image from Ministry of Food exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London.
Quote from The Ministry of Food, Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2010.

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