The Audit process
On behalf of the whole Cripley Meadow community, a team of Committee members inspects every plot twice and year, in Spring and Autumn. An additional quick check is done around the end of July for any serious problems that were not apparent in Spring, or to check on the progress of actions undertaken by members after the Spring audit.
Plots are given a rating from 0 (no problems) to 4 (very serious, or long-standing problems). Within a few weeks of the audit (it takes time to collate and check the results, ensure appropriate Committee oversight and draft the letters), the lead member for any plot with a rating of 1 or more is contacted, and the problem(s) and a timescale for rectification are set out. For level 1 and 2, an email only is sent. For the more serious level 3 and 4, where we need to be absolutely sure that the lead member has received our communication, an email and a paper letter to the home address are sent.
In the vast majority of cases, members understand, and problems are rectified in a timely fashion. It is never the wish of the Committee to deprive anyone of membership, but that remains the sanction we must apply in the case of serious and/or longstanding issues that are not addressed. The whole Committee has oversight of the audit and its results, and any decision to remove membership is taken by the Committee as a whole. The Committee is elected annually and all members have a chance to influence the management of the site by standing for election.
Few of us would welcome receiving an email or letter from the Committee pointing out our shortcomings, but hopefully we would see it was fair. And if the Committee has got it wrong, we want to know. We also want to know if you are having problems maintaining your plot – we would far rather understand, and see what the options might be for managing the situation. We have found that, in all but very exceptional circumstances, we can find a solution.
Why we have audits
There are two main reasons why we carry out audits. One is that to comply with our lease with Oxford City Council, the Association must make every effort to ensure that our allotments are used appropriately. This means they must be occupied as allotment gardens only; that they are not used for trade or business except for the sale of surplus products; they are clean, free from weeds, well manured and in a good state of cultivation and fertility. Plot holders may remove any perennial crops or fruit bushes planted or purchased by them before the end of their membership provided they replace the surface soil disturbed by such removal.
The other main reason is to ensure good neighbourliness between allotment holders. It is in the interests of all of us that weed seeding, shading by oversized trees, rubbish left on boundaries, unsafe wells and structures, broken glass, invasive plants and so on, are dealt with. The rules mean everyone knows what is expected of them, and of others, and we have a level playing field.
We also bear in mind that allotments are a limited resource and it is not fair to members waiting for bigger spaces, or indeed to potential members wanting a plot, when they can see plots that are not used in accordance with our rules. This can be more difficult where members have more than one plot!
What we look for
In summary, we are checking that each plot is following the rules.
The most important thing that we look for is the degree to which each plot is cultivated and maintained. A badly maintained plot causes problems for its neighbours and to be fair to all we must make sure that each plot is being used as fully as possible.
Cripley Meadow rules require members to cultivate at least 75% of their potential space. This is taken to mean that it is either in readiness for growing, well stocked with produce (relevant to the time of the year) or being made ready for crops or being prepared for the following season. Some plots are being reclaimed after previous neglect and one season’s allowance is generally given for this.
Cultivation and weed control
Plot holders must take steps to eradicate pernicious weeds – such as bindweed, thistles, ground elder, and nettles – and ensure that they do not spread to other plots. Members must not cause a nuisance to other plot holders by allowing weeds to seed. Plot holders may grow any kind of vegetables, flowers, soft fruit or herbs. Invasive plants like bamboo are not permitted and blackberry is restricted to headland or on plots if pruned and kept 5 ft from any boundary.
Fruit or nut trees may be planted only with permission and on dwarf stock and managed at 10ft max if at least 5 ft from any boundaries. No other trees are permitted. Fruit trees and bushes should be sited only where they will not create an obstacle or nuisance to others as they grow. If plot holders do have permission to cultivate a number of trees they must ensure that the surrounding areas are kept weed free and cut to avoid seeding. We limited fruit trees to no more than 25% of the larger plot holder’s total or 30% if they are underplanted with productive crops.
All plots should have a pathway between them. A minimum of 2 to 2.5ft is required as are managed headlands. Some of the paths got lost in clearing and fencing but they are a necessary buffer between plots and should be re-established if missing. Traditionally each plot-holder managed the path to the left when standing on the plot shed line looking out. (Some of these shed lines have now changed so check with the Committee if you are not sure). The main thing is that members cooperate and keep paths between them managed. The headland is the bit outside your fence and up to the mowed path. We have a 5 ft fence/ hedging limit on headlands. Adjoining fences must be kept clear of blackberry and any plants that shade more than the path width.
Storage, structures, safety and waste
All structures, like sheds and polytunnels, must have permission, be kept well maintained and not shade adjacent plots and be secured adequately. Only material for use on the plot can be stored and no rubbish may be dumped on any part of the Association’s land. We commend recycling but plots cannot be used to store or accumulate material. Unwanted vegetable matter must be burnt or composted on your plot and other rubbish kept in sacks and put in the skip provided from time to time or taken to Redbridge. Plot holders who have a well on their plot are responsible for the safe maintenance of it and for providing and maintaining a strong, raised well surround and cover. New wells may be dug but please notify the committee so we keep their positions logged for safety. No barbed wire or razor wire is allowed.
Numbering your plot
Please make sure you have a visible numbers on your plot, preferably on the entrance. If there was ever an accident or someone fell ill and the emergency services had to track down a particular plot in a hurry, the numbers would make all the difference.