Arsonists are thought to have used a stolen can of petrol to torch several gardeners' sheds at allotments in Oxford.

Fire crews were called to the Lenthall Road allotments, in Rose Hill, at about 3.40pm on Thursday, following reports of a blaze.

They arrived to find four sheds well alight and the incident is being treated as arson.

Thames Valley Police spokesman Toby Shergold confirmed that officers were investigating the attack.

David Penwarden, chairman of the Rose Hill and Iffley Allotments Association, said allotment holders visited the site off Lenthall Road on Friday to assess the damage.

The former city councillor added: "Two people saw the fire start and then saw some young people running away, so we suspect this is arson.

"We understand that a number of sheds were also attacked at the Pullens Lane allotments on the same day, so this has been a bad time for allotment holders, who put a lot of work into what they do.

"A shed was broken into at Lenthall Road last weekend and a can of petrol was pinched, so it's possible that was used to start the fire.

"The managers of the allotments use the petrol to run the mowers and strimmers.

"Patrolling the allotments is a low priority for the police, but the city council has agreed to put up a new £40,000 metal fence from the start of the new financial year in April.

"You cannot guarantee that it will keep people out but it will certainly act as a deterrent.

"Kids get on to the allotments at night and they use them as a kind of drinking den.

"It's a real shame because lots of different people take pride in their allotments down here, including lots of single women.

"I started out as a trustee over 26 years ago, and in those days, the vast majority of allotments were tenanted by people from the Rose Hill area, but now we attract people from all over south east Oxford.

"I suppose people from Rose Hill don't have the same stake in the allotments that they once had."

Mr Penwarden said that while some allotment sheds were of little value themselves, the tools contained inside were often valuable, and some had been destroyed in the fires.

Oxfordshire Fire Service and South Central Ambulance said no-one had been hurt in the blaze at Lenthall Road.

But former Labour city councillor Bill Buckingham, who lives on the Rose Hill estate, said he had been told that one youth suffered burns.

"Kids need to be warned about the dangers of doing this before someone is seriously hurt," he added.

Last year, the city council pledged to invest in a repairs programme for its allotments. A five-year audit was drawn up, and it was estimated that work in one year alone could cost £242,800.