AHEAD of National Allotments Week, plot holders are being urged to protect their sites more than ever.

But the event organiser, the National Allotment Society, is also promoting a much more serious message, highlighting the need to strengthen the protection for our remaining allotment sites and emphasising the benefits allotments bring to people and the environment.

Reports vary as to how many allotments there are in the UK today, with estimates ranging from 150,000 to 300,000.

Demand remains high, as the economic downturn and television programmes such as Gardeners' World and The Big Allotment Challenge have encouraged people to try self-sufficiency.

Allotments are protected by legislation, so if a statutory site -bought by the local council to use specifically for allotments - is sold off, the council is obliged to provide a replacement plot.

However, what sort of site it is replaced with may be an issue for gardeners.

Di Appleyard, the society's marketing manager, said: "Moving an allotment site could mean dismantling thriving, socially cohesive allotment communities that, as recent research has shown, are situated on land that is high in bio-diversity with healthy soil, producing a significant amount of locally grown food.

"Although legislation dictates that the plot-holders must be offered an alternative growing space, it does not take into account the historical value and sense of place or the damage that is done to the existing social networks.

"This element needs to be recognised and existing allotment sites should be valued and protected."

The real threat to plot holders, it seems, lies in the loss of council-owned land classed as a temporary site - which the council has claimed for something else, such as a school or a cemetery, but on which allotments have been built as a temporary measure.

Ms Appleyard added: "Plot holders should get the land registered as a community asset, which will give them a level of protection.

"Locality, a network for community-led organisations (www.locality.org.uk) is a good starting point if you need help ."

n National Allotments Week runs from August 4-11. For details go to www.nsalg.org.uk