Governments set low bar on phase out of gardeners’ use of peat

Governments set low bar on phase out of gardeners’ use of peat

The Wildlife Trusts call for immediate ban on all peat sales, peat extraction and peat imports to help address the nature and climate crisis

今天,英格兰和威尔士政府宣布consultation on ending the sale of peat to amateur gardeners. But ambition to protect peatlands is still falling far short of what is badly needed.

Peatland in Northumberland. Bell Crag Flow, part of the Border Mire

Duncan Hutt.

For decades the UK Government has failed to bring to a clear end the commercial extraction of peat and its sale to gardeners and the horticulture industry. In 2010 a voluntary target was set to phase out the use of peat by amateur gardeners by 2020. Today, peat still accounts for a significant volume of the growing media sold by retailers and despite its initial aspirations, the voluntary targets set by the Government have been unsuccessful in changing the industry.

A similar target to end peat use in the professional sector by 2030 looks set to be missed, with peat still accounting for around 41% of the growing media used in horticulture overall. Unfortunately, today the UK and Welsh Governments have demonstrated that they will not act with the urgency required by immediately ending the sale of peat in both the amateur and professional markets.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts says:

“The UK Government has been dithering over this crucial issue for decades and the consultation on the use of peat by gardeners is long overdue. But this consultation is a damp squib. It refers to amateur gardeners – and merely calls for evidence about the impacts of ending peat use in professional horticulture. We know how harmful the effects are already, we don’t need to wait. It refers to the damaging effects of peat extraction – but this activity is still allowed in England which is absurd given the excellent alternatives to peat that are now available.

“Peatlands are vital carbon-storing habitats and it’s absolutely crucial that they remain intact for nature’s sake and to help us tackle climate change. When a peatland is degraded or extracted from, it stops storing carbon and emits it instead. So it’s vital that UK governments ensure peatlands function as nature intended by taking urgent action right now. This means an immediate ban on the use of peat by individuals and the wider horticulture industry, an immediate end to extracting peat, and a ban on the import of peat in any form – right now.”

The UK’s peatlands are of immeasurable importance, storing as much carbon as the forests of the UK, Germany and France combined. However, 80% of these vital habitats are now degraded. The extraction of peat for horticulture contributes to this by stripping peatlands of vegetation, exposing peat to the atmosphere and allowing carbon dioxide to be released in massive quantities.


Pool system on peat bog by Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

Ailis Watt, peat officer for The Wildlife Trusts says:

“The commercial extraction of peat for horticulture is not only unnecessary, but severely limits the natural ability of peatlands to deliver benefits for people, wildlife and the planet.

“Though this new consultation on the ban of peat composts and other products in the amateur sector is a step in the right direction, the measures proposed only scratch the surface of the problem. We need to end the use of peat in horticulture entirely – with immediate effect, not wait until 2024 as the UK Government proposes – if we are to restore these damaged habitats, allow nature to return and enable them to store carbon rather than emit it.

“This is primarily a consultation about people’s personal use of peat; a forgone opportunity to address the problems facing the UK’s peatlands at the scale we desperately need.

“This is an urgent task – there is no time left to waste if peatlands are to play their part in limiting climate change to the UK Government’s stated aim of a 1.5°c increase. On top of this, the UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world, so protecting our incredibly biodiverse peatlands has never been of greater importance.”

Once the consultation closes in March 2022, the UK and Welsh Governments must publish a strategy which sets out a framework for an end to peat use among amateur growers and gardeners, by 2024 at the latest. The Wildlife Trusts are calling for:

  • An immediate end to the sale and use of bagged peat compost in theamateurmarket.
  • An immediate end to the sale and use of peat in theprofessionalmarket.
  • The immediate cessation of theextractionof peat from the UK’s peatlands.
  • An immediate end to theimportationof peat for compost; two-thirds of peat used in the UK is imported. An import ban must therefore be implemented alongside an extraction ban in order to prevent ‘offshoring’ of peatland damage to countries with less stringent legislation.
  • Restorationof all bogs damaged by the removal of peat as a priority.

The Wildlife Trusts are leading peatland restoration projects across the UK. To date, 12 Trusts have collectively restored 43,000 hectares of peatland in England alone, working with partners and landowners, and already have short term plans to repair a further 16,000 hectares.

The UK Government has announced an award of £5million from the Nature for Climate Fund for peatland restoration projects in England, and UK Governments have committed to spend over £300 million on peatland restoration in total. While this investment is welcome, a least £2 billion is needed to restore at least 1.4 million hectares of degraded peatland habitat to meet climate and nature goals. Failure to do so will cost society much more.

The Wildlife Trusts ask people to show the UK and Welsh Governments that they care by taking a ‘peat free pledge’ also to support an immediate ban on peat-based products. Everyone is urged to check information on packaging to ensure that garden purchases are free of peat.

Editor's Notes

  • 2010 Government calls for peat to bephased out
  • Peat still accounts for a significant volume of the growing media sold by retailers – seepdf. (Over 1.5 million cubic meters. 1.52 million m3 amateur peat - Ref: same HTA report)
  • Peat still accounting for around 41% of the growing media used in horticulture overall – seepdf.
  • UK’s peatlands are of immeasurable importance, storing as much carbon as the forests of the UK, Germany and France combined - seehere. However, 80% of these vital habitats are now degraded – seehere.
  • Two thirds of peat used in the UK is imported – seehere.

What are peatlands?

泥炭地,沼泽和沼泽,水涝,wetland landscapes where decaying plant material builds up over time to form peat. This happens very slowly, forming at a rate of around a millilitre per year – or in other words taking a thousand years to form a metre of peat. In the UK, peat is commercially extracted mainly from lowland raised bogs where mechanical methods can remove a metre or more of peat in a year, far faster than it can re-form. Extraction also often removes the active peat-forming layer at the surface of the bog in order to get to the deposits underneath, making recovery of the habitat afterwards extremely unlikely, without help. The UK’s peat bogs are home to rare and unusual wildlife like wading birds, carnivorous plants and beautiful dragonflies, all of which are at risk when their habitat is destroyed by peat extraction. UK bogs meet just part of the country’s demand, with much peat imported from Ireland and Europe, leaving a legacy of damaged bogs there too. Peatlands are the largest on-land store of carbon and are vital to our fight against climate change, with the UK’s peatland storing 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon.

12 Wildlife Trusts have restored 43,000 hectares and have plans to restore thousands more – here are three examples:

Yorkshire Wildlife Trustcompleted a remarkable 31,526 ha of peat restoration work by the end of March 2020 which is 33% of the all the blanket bog in Yorkshire. This year they aim to carry out 6,382 ha of new peatland restoration and 5,465ha of extra moss planting and ditch blocking. The restored areas are now shimmering with red and green mosses and, in summer, piping with the eerie lament of golden plover and the sight of short eared owls quartering the ground in their hunt for field voles.

Lancashire Wildlife Trustis currently restoring 347 ha of peatlands including the former commercial peat extraction site of Little Woolden Moss and the formerly drained and exploited Astley Moss. Both are being reclaimed by layers of beautiful sphagnum mosses, hare’s tail cottongrass and heather. The large heath butterfly, known locally as the Manchester argus, has been reintroduced to Astley Moss after being missing for nearly 150 years.

Northumberland Wildlife Trusthelped restore 2,000 ha of peatlands across the Border Mires around Kielder Forest in a ground-breaking project that took 40 years. They cleared conifer plantations, blocked thousands of agricultural ditches and created 130 wader pools to help rare birds such as curlew to return to the area. Northumberland Wildlife Trust is now planning work across a further 650ha of peatland.