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Peat-free gardening

Garden industry must act fast to halt peat use in amateur gardening by 2020
Peat-free gardening

As the nation’s gardeners get their trowels out this spring, those looking for peat-free composts may be disappointed. A new survey reveals a lack of real choice for consumers in garden centres and other outlets, and shows stronger action’s needed to phase peat out of the gardening industry and to protect wild peatlands.

Garden trade ‘failing in its duty’

The survey by Friends of the Earth, Plantlife, RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts found that only 19% of almost 1,300 products on sale were clearly labelled as peat-free, and – perhaps unsurprisingly – that a third of respondents didn’t find peat-free compost clearly available.

Half of those who checked prices found peat-free compost to be more expensive than peat-based options, and most respondents reported a lack of product choice, price incentive or clear labelling to encourage consumers to buy peat-free.

In fact, there was often little awareness or concern about the impact of peat among retail staff.

‘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.’

England Director for the Wildlife Trusts

Peat still popular

The survey results show it’s still difficult 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.

The amount of peat in the retail market increased by 50,000m3 from 2012 to 2015, with peat still accounting for more than half of the total material used in bagged composts. Across the UK garden industry, more than 2 million m3 of peat was used in 2015.

The problem with peat

Environmental groups are calling on industry and governments to take urgent, determined action to protect remaining peatlands from the devastating impacts of this trade.

While commercial peat extraction from Britain’s bogs has been reduced, our use of peat in gardens is now degrading bogs in other areas. 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.

‘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.’

Friends of the Earth campaigner

A valuable resource

Peatland is home to a range of scarce and unique wildlife, and provides vital services for people. Peat bogs store vast amounts of carbon, which must be 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.

Click here for tips on peat-free gardening from the RSPB.

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