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Plantlife’s policy team have responded to a Scottish Government consultation on a potential ban on peat sales.
This is consultation is welcome but long overdue – 2 years on from their promise to phase out peat, the Scottish government needs to step up now to protect our precious peatlands.
Peatlands are home to some of the UK’s most distinctive plant communities. Diverse groups of organisms have evolved in response to the low-nutrient conditions in bogs – leading to remarkable adaptations like the insect-eating sundews and butterworts, and the spongy blankets of colourful sphagnum mosses.
They are also some of our most important carbon sinks. But, when drained, the dead plant matter held in the water begins to break down, a process which releases carbon dioxide. This turns a carbon store into a vast carbon emitter.
Almost 80% of the UK’s peatbogs are now in poor condition, contributing 5% of national greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, our wildlife, our planet and we humans are suffering the cost of our financially cheap single-use composts.
A large part of the problem around peat use is our perceived dependence on it and the misuse of peat as, for example, as a soil improver. We need to move away from this dependency and demonstrate that a ban is entirely feasible.
The UK is now home to over 100 nurseries which are entirely peat-free, and the IUCN UK Peatland Programme’s ‘Demonstrating Success’ report on horticulture shows clearly, through case studies of successful peat-free growers, that gardening without peat is entirely feasible. With proper education and upskilling around how to use peat substitutes and alternative growing methods, gardeners will feel empowered to make the switch with confidence.
Even if this weren’t the case – the urgency of tackling the biodiversity and climate crises should be prioritised over growing plants for commercial reasons.
Continuing to delay an end to peat sales is to continue to allow the state of Scotland’s peatlands to deteriorate. This undermines the Scottish Government’s own commitment to, and £250 million investment in, peatland restoration. It also undermines their commitment to reaching net zero and tackling the biodiversity crisis, both at a domestic level and in terms of our impact around the world.
A ban on peat use will also create a level playing-field in the horticulture sector, encouraging innovation and driving towards a sustainable horticultural industry. A green transition in the industry will be welcomed and encouraged by both consumers and the general public; the 2022 consultation in England demonstrated an overwhelming 95% support for the introduction of a peat ban.
Treating this issue with determination and urgency is necessary to demonstrate that the Scottish Government is serious about delivering on its environmental and climate commitments. Now, let’s make it happen.
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