Lesley Riddoch and I enjoyed a packed session at the Nordic Horizons meeting on huts at the Festival of Politics this morning and the talk turned to how huts can be part of a revolution. Something of what this could entail is illustrated by watching this short film about two young boys spending time in their allotments and summer house.

The whole point of this post is to watch this video ……………………. click here to watch

(I am sorry – I can’t embed Flash video in WordPress.)

As close attention to the film will reveal and because Germany allows such urban hutting, children can grow up learning (with no need to be taught by a schoolteacher) about solar energy, growing their own food, rearing animals, building relationships with others, having substantial autonomy, expectations of equality and access to land and many other vital skills.

I am left wondering whether in fact whether such an upbringing contributes to Germany’s economic success. If girls and boys spend their childhood helping to build, maintain, manage and enjoy a small parcel of land upon which a community lives, they learn about empowerment, initiative, creativity, practical skills, relationships and so much more. A fascinating history of the schrebergarden movement can be found here including its legal basis in the land reforms following the 1918 revolution. There are over 1 million schrebergardens in Germany – four times the number of allotments in the whole of the UK (where if you dare to spend the night in your toolshed you could be evicted.)

Meanwhile the most that many of Scotland’s schoolchildren can expect is to get to go and visit a big estate or farm owned by an aristocratic landowner and be shown big tractors and and some animals.

The issues raised are very relevant to two Scottish Government initiatives at the moment. The first is he Land Reform Review Group (which has yet to publish its remit and about which little can sensibly be said until this is done). The second is the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill consultation which specifically raises the future of allotment law and might yet be a vehicle for legalising the expansion of hutting.

UPDATE 19 August.

Daye Tucker, a Director of Scottish Land and Estates finds my dismissal of how we link children to the land “loaded and toxically inaccurate” and “rather insulting”. I admit it is a bit flippant but it is designed to point up a deeper truth in the comparison between Germany and Scotland. Give kids 2 months spent on a schrebergarden and they will learn a lot more about growing food that a Royal Highland Educational Trust visit to a school. Rather to prove my point here is a report about the Dumfries and Galloway branch of the RHET who seem to think that taking big tractors into playgrounds is going to teach children anything. Note that this is a German tractor which was almost certainly assembled by workers who had grown up on a schrebergarden. Oh, and just have a listen to Andrew Dunlop in the film clip.

UPDATE 29 August

The story would not be complete without revealing what those schoolchildren above are actually looking at. Whilst some of the boys at the back are admiring the big green tractor, the rest are looking quizically at ….. a plastic cow (photo taken at a different stop on the same tour).


BBC reports today that squatters have taken over a house at 7 Winnington Close, LONDON N2 0UA, allegedly belonging to Saif Gaddaffi. In the interests of full disclosure here is the title and confirmation that the property is owned by Capitana Seas Ltd, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands. The house was bought for £10 million on 11 May 2009.

Thetitle provides a c/oaddress of Speechly Bircham LLP, 6 New Street Square, LONDON EC4A 3LX. They claim to be “one of the ten leading firms in the world” for “International tax & wealth restructuring” Under “Experience” they claim

Advising various Middle East billionaires on prime residential and commercial properties purchased in London, some with Sharia compliant funding.”

How many more dictators with blood on their hands does this wonderful example of London’s financial community assist?

Fantastic news this evening as it is announced that Professor Elinor Ostrom is the joint winner of the Nobel Prize for economics. As a champion of the commons, she has contributed hugely to the idea that commons work when properly regulated. The idea of the commons as opposed to the private realm is of fundamental importance in the debate about how we manage natural resources and organise economic activity. News report from the FT here together with video interview with Martin Wolf, the FT’s Chief Economics commentator trying to make sense of what most mainstream economists have ignored for far too long. A useful background briefing from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences here.

An excellent series of reports on the water crisis in Kenya reminds me how valuable the BBC is as a media institution in the UK. Environmental stories, especially involving Africa, are too frequently ignored in the media but James Morgan has earned every penny of his BBC salary in bringing us an in depth report of a truly frightening situation which could, if handled badly, turn into a serious conflict. Alex Bell has just published a book on the topic which I look forward to reading.

On the day of Gordon Brown’s speech at the Labour Party Conference it is also worth noting how little attention he paid to the environment or to the poor of the world. Electoral politics in the UK is about turning inward and contemplating  really rather unimportant matters in the great scheme of things. How to govern and manage the planet in such circumstances?