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In praise of polytunnels

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Polytunnels have had a bad press, particularly in AONBs and National Parks, but with an increasing number of households facing food poverty (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/nov/18/breadline-britain-nutritional-recession-austerity) and, for a variety of reasons, unable to source reasonably priced fruit and vegetables, perhaps it is time to think again about polytunnels?

It is true that massed ranks of polytunnels look like odd land locked seas, detracting from the seasonal  beauty of landscapes that we love but perhaps more shocking, although less noticeable, is the ever increasing area of non-productive farmland. Traditional landscapes of grass based livestock production like the High Weald have seen total numbers of sheep and cattle decline by nearly 30% in the last 10 years. The amount of land purchased for amenity or privacy is growing and although it can still provide many benefits it is indicative of a worrying decline in productive farming and the skills and businesses that go with it.

The need for more growers, and gardeners, is clear. We could celebrate the sheer productivity that comes from polytunnels - an environment offering higher temperatures and humidity. In our small polytunnel we counted well over 300 cucumbers from 2 plants. And they extend the growing season, with leeks, hardy leaves, brassicas, broad beans, pea shoots and much more able to grow at a time when very little else is happening outside so what's not to like? Small scale polytunnels are light weight, temporary structures easily screened with a bit of forethought (try coppiced hazel) and easily removed. At a large scale they are industrial activities with all the problems that brings but at a smaller scale they seem to me to be a vital adaptive response to the need to grow more fruit and vegetables in the face of increasingly unpredictable weather especially cooler, wetter summers. Every school should have one. So lets see more individual polytunnels scattered across both the urban and rural landscape ....and learn to love them. 

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