A leading historian has backed campaigners fighting to save 'London's oldest' allotments in Ealing.
Dr Jeremy Burchardt, who is an authority on allotments, believes they are a key part of the nation's heritage and merit the same level of protection as ancient churches and castles.
The University of Reading professor has thrown his weight behind protesters who oppose social housing planned on part of the Northfields Allotments, in Northfield Avenue, Ealing.
He says records show those allotments date back to 1832, making them almost certainly the oldest in the capital still in use.
'Protection could come too late for allotments'
He believes losing even a small number of the plots there would erode a valuable piece of the country's social history.
"Unlike buildings, allotments haven't been recognised as heritage sites yet, so they don't have as much protection," he said.
"But they are just as important a part of our history as churches and other historic structures.
"They represent people's heritage. This is land which has been worked for generations by ordinary people, often by those struggling to feed their families in very difficult circumstances.
"I think in due course they will be recognised as an important part of our heritage but if sites like this are built upon in the meantime it will be too late."
'Shouldn't have to choose between allotments and social housing'
The charity Pathways, which owns the allotments, says it needs to build on around a tenth of the site to create much-needed affordable housing for vulnerable people.
It has assured allotment holders that it has no plans to build on any more of the land in future, in an attempt to allay fears of creeping development.
But more than 750 people, including plot-holders and local politicians, have signed a petition opposing plans to build on the allotments.
Dr Burchardt says he recognises the need for more social housing but believes it can be provided without building on historic green spaces.
"We shouldn't be forced to choose. It's a bit like asking someone 'do you want to shoot your sister or your brother'," he said.
To view the proposals and find out how to have your say, visit the Pathways website.