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Plantlife’s peat campaign

Plantlife, along with the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and Friends of the Earth, is calling on government and industry to replace peat use in gardening and horticulture.

  • Peat extraction for gardening in the UK is on the rise – despite the government’s commitment to phase out peat use in gardening by 2020, and across the garden industry by 2030
  • Peatlands in Britain, Ireland and beyond continue to be devastated
  • Damaging peatlands has a knock-on effect on wildlife, carbon stores, flood risk and water quality.

It’s time we stopped this destructive practice. Although the government has set targets to halt horticultural use of peat, too little progress is being made.

What is peat?

Peat is plant material which is partially decomposed and has accumulated in waterlogged conditions.

Peatlands include moors, bogs and fens, as well as some farmed land.

Peat bogs are particular types of wetlands waterlogged by direct rainfall. Peat bogs grow slowly, accumulating around 0.5 to 1 mm of peat each year, and the water prevents the plants from decomposing. As a result, many areas of UK peat bog have been accumulating gradually for as much as 10,000 years, and can be up to 10m deep. Due to its slow accumulation, peat is often classified as a fossil fuel.

Different types of peat bog have formed in response to the climate and other conditions in differeny  locations.

Why is peat important?

Peat and peatlands are hugely important for plants, the wildlife that depend on them and, ultimately, us humans too.

Peat bogs store vast amounts of carbon, which must kept in the ground to avoid contributing to climate change.

Peat 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.

Plants to find in peatlands include carpets of colourful mosses and cotton grasses, and dotted with bog asphodel, rare sedges, cuckooflower, marsh violet, sundews, common butterwort, marsh cinquefoil and marsh willowherb.

Peatland wild plants support a range of butterflies, dragonflies and birds, including snipe and curlews, merlins and skylarks.

Commercial peat extraction in the UK and Ireland is largely from raised bogs in the lowlands.

Much less peat comes from blanket bog, which is much thinner and more often found in the uplands in Scotland and western parts of the UK.


Where does horticultural peat come from?

In 2015 more than half of peat used for horticulture in the UK came from the Republic of Ireland, where peat is extracted on a large scale for horticulture and for burning to produce heat and electricity. As peat extraction has declined in the UK, we have increased imports from Ireland, effectively exporting much of the environmental impact.

So what’s the problem?

Put simply, our current use of peat is unsustainable.

  • Peat ‘grows’ by only a millimetre a year
  • Commercial extraction can remove over 500 years worth of ‘growth’ in a single year
  • Amateur gardening accounts for 69% of peat compost used in the UK – we currently use some three billion litres of peat every year in our gardens
  • 32% of our peat comes from the UK, 60% from Ireland and 8% from Europe

Alternatives to peat

  • The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is demonstrating what’s possible; its gardens are now 97% peat-free and it is committed to reducing peat use wherever practicable
  • The RHS also provides advice on what to look for in peat-free alternatives
  • Many of the National Trust’s gardens have been peat-free for years
  • Gardening Which? Compost trials uncover great peat-free products

What is Plantlife doing about peat?

As well as campaigning, Plantlife works to raise awareness, and conserve and restore peatlands

This ‘death by a thousand cuts’ is pushing many species to the brink of extinction. Yet in local communities around the UK, people are running fantastic campaigns to stand up for wildlife and protect their local sites from being destroyed.

Plantlife’s top tips

If you believe that wild plants and fungi are at risk at a site near you, here’s a few ideas for what you can do:

1. Knowledge is power

Find out which species are found on and around the site – fungi, plants and animals. Your local Wildlife Trust, environmental records centre or a botanical group might already have information about the site’s wildlife. If not, organise your own survey – this is best done in the summertime. You may be able to get help from your local botanical society or other local experts. (Remember to get the landowner’s permission beforehand if necessary.)

2. Share the love:

Share any records of species found with your Local Records Centre and/or a national monitoring scheme. These will be verified and then taken into account by the local planning authority and others. (It’s always important to share your wildlife sightings, as this is vital to help us understand what’s happening to wildlife across the UK – and you never know when your data might help to protect those species that you’ve enjoyed spotting.)

3. Connect the dots

Check the ecological assessment or environmental statement which should be available as part of the planning application or development plan. Assess it against your own information and ask questions such as: Did the field survey include lichens, mosses and fungi? Was it done at a time of year when any species present could be found (i.e. not in winter)?

4. Make some noise

Raise any concerns directly with the ecologist (if there is one) in the local planning authority, with your elected councillors, with your friends and neighbours and with the local media.

5. Follow up

Many planning applications are approved with conditions to protect local wildlife – in this case, you can monitor whether these conditions are actually followed during and after construction of the development. In England, you can monitor whether Natural England’s Standing Advice on Protected Species is being followed.

6. On that farm

Where you think a site is at risk from a change in its use – such as ploughing, drainage or chemical spraying on a wildflower meadow – then the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) (Agriculture) regulations may apply. These regulations protect land that hasn’t been ploughed or had fertiliser added in the past 15 years and the landowner must apply for permission before changing its use.

– England
– Scotland
– Wales

More information:

  • Use the Wildlife Assessment Check, a free online tool designed to help check whether a proposed site and works are likely to require expert ecological advice
  • Consult the relevant government websites for up-to-date information about legislation and planning processes:

– England: here and here
– Scotland
– Wales


Send us your news

Please send details of ‘live’ cases happening close to you by emailing

Plantlife can’t take action on all cases, but we’ll use this evidence to put more pressure on government and local authorities, and to raise awareness of what’s at stake.

What’s new in Plantlife’s agricultural work

Many of our upland and lowland landscapes in Wales are dominated by green fields. In fact, 83% of our farmed landscape is managed as permanent grassland or for rough grazing. Our future agri-environment schemes will be a vital part of paving the way to restoring these landscapes. As a result, Plantlife have been working hard on our response to the Welsh Agricultural Bill and the Sustainable Farming Scheme Proposals for 2025. 

Challenges faced by Permanent Grasslands in Wales 

Permanent grasslands (those not regularly ploughed or reseeded) are often overlooked in climate change mitigation. However, they are a key nature-based solution to the challenges we face. One reason they get so overlooked is a lack of collective knowledge about grassland soil carbon.  They are also side-lined by an emphasis on tree planting and peatland restoration in policy. Effective management of permanent grassland is at the heart of Wales’ livestock production and the wider farming economy. We need it to be at the heart of addressing the climate and biodiversity crisis as well. 

Benefits of permanent grasslands 

Grasslands are incredible habitats, which can sequester and store carbon, and improve biodiversity. They provide natural flood defences, enhance our health and wellbeing, lock up pollutants. Importantly, they also sustain an irreplaceable part of Wales’ cultural heritage.

Plantlife’s work in permanent grasslands in Wales

At Plantlife, we would like to see greater recognition for the multiple benefits these grasslands can provide. We are asking Government to support farmers and land managers to adapt their farming practices. Also, for the government to assist farms to restore and maintain species-rich grassland. Unfortunately, in the past, grassland restoration has seen lower payment rates compared to, for example, the support for arable farms. The new scheme needs to be economically viable for all farmers to enter. It will be important that there is good advice for farmers and land managers to access, apply and manage these schemes. 

Working with local farmers around Cae Blaen-dyffryn nature reserve 

As well as putting pressure on Welsh Government to do the best it can for our farmed environment, we are also working towards restoring agricultural grasslands ourselves. 

Hywel Morgan has recently joined the Plantlife Cymru team as our Agricultural Advisor. He will be working in the landscape around our Cae Blaen-dyffryn nature reserve, near Lampeter. He is speaking to local farmers and seeking to understand where the most mutually beneficial and sustainable actions for grassland conservation lie.  

We hope that over time, we can work a lot more with this farming community. Plantlife will be seeking funds for the grassland restoration based on opportunities we identify. Hywel’s brings personal knowledge of farming and will gain local insight from speaking to the farming community. This will help us to advocate for grassland restoration solutions that have the best chance of success. 

Stay tuned to our blog and sign up to our newsletter; Hywel might share his insight what he learnt from talking to the local farming community.