Easter survey reveals the need for faster action on peat-free gardening
As the nation’s gardeners prepare for spring, a new survey reveals a lack of real choice for consumers looking for peat-free composts at garden centres and other outlets.
A new survey highlights the need for more determined action to phase out peat use from the gardening industry and to protect wild peatlands.
The survey results show how difficult it still is for amateur gardeners to buy peat-free. This is despite the high profile of the peat-free gardening issue in the 1990s and early 2000s, the availability of quality peat-free alternatives and repeated commitments by the garden industry and UK government to phase out peat use. Environmental groups are calling on industry and governments to take determined action – and urgently – to protect remaining peatlands from the devastating impacts of this trade.
Industry figures show that:
While commercial peat extraction from Britain’s bogs has been reduced, our use of peat in gardens is now degrading bogs elsewhere. In 2015, more than half of our peat came from Ireland and around 7% from elsewhere in Europe (primarily the Baltic States) – leaving a third (around 700,000 tonnes) from peatlands in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.
Peatland is home to a variety of scarce and unique wildlife, and provides vital services for people. Peat bogs store vast amounts of carbon, which must kept in the ground to avoid contributing to climate change. A loss of only 5% of UK peatland carbon would be equal to the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. These bogs also act like a sponge, soaking up rainwater, and can help to reduce flood risk. Water filtered through healthy peat bogs is of a higher quality than water from degraded bogs, making it cheaper to treat as drinking water. Around 70% of our water comes from British uplands, and over half of this passes through peat.
Jenny Hawley, Plantlife’s Senior Policy Officer, said: “The survey shows an appalling lack of choice for consumers and the devastating impact of this continuing trade on Europe’s peat bogs. We need to protect and restore our peat bogs for plants and animals, for good water management and to prevent climate change. Peat bogs develop over millennia, so they’re a limited and unsustainable resource – often classified as a fossil fuel.”
Sandra Bell, Friends of the Earth campaigner, said: “Gardeners have a key role to play in buying peat-free compost – and in asking for more choice and promotion by retailers. This survey highlights a clear need for faster and more determined action by the garden industry and retailers to meet the UK government’s commitment to phase out peat use from amateur gardening by 2020.”
Adrian Thomas, RSPB wildlife gardening expert, said “I've gardened peat-free for over 20 years now, and grown thousands of plants that way. The quality of peat-free composts has really improved in recent years, and I think they're now just as good if not better than peat. The bottom line is that it is important that in making our own garden a wonderful place we don't damage a part of the planet elsewhere.”
Steve Trotter, England Director for the Wildlife Trusts, said: “Gardeners can make a real difference by not buying peat-based products but the garden trade is failing in its duty to phase out peat and give its customers real choice to go peat-free. A few responsible traders are leading the way but the pace of change is far too slow. The Government must now honour its pledge to phase out peat for garden use by 2020. The market isn’t delivering so the Government must now take effective action.”
This call is also supported by the Irish Peatland Conservation Council (IPCC). Katie Geraghty, Campaign Officer, said: “Gardeners choosing peat-free compost can help save Ireland’s wonderfully wild boglands and protect endangered species like the Curlew. Recent research has shown that there are only 123 pairs of breeding Curlew left in Ireland - a 97% decline since the 1980s – and they depend on bog habitats to breed.”
Find out more:
Why we need to keep peat in the ground - and out of our gardens
What is peat? Why peat is important for nature. Are there good alternatives to peat in the garden? Plantlife's campaign to keep peat in the ground