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For peat’s sake

The government have finally set out plans to ban the sales of peat, restore uplands peat, and make fenland farming more sustainable.

Peatlands are an iconic feature of English landscape. They perform many important functions as the UK’s largest terrestrial carbon store, a haven for rare wildlife, a record of our past, and natural providers of water.

Unfortunately, for too long now this natural resource has been taken for granted, leaving only 13% of England’s 1.4 million hectares of peatlands in a near natural state.

The action plan sets out the government’s vision to reverse this. Re-wetting peatland areas and returning them to their natural state could make a significant contribution to achieving our targets on reducing carbon emissions, as well as having other benefits for water quality, nature and flood mitigation.

Perhaps the biggest step the government will be taking is the complete ban of sales of peat compost for amateur gardeners. It will be phasing it out in horticulture on a wider scale as the government has recognised the voluntary approach has not delivered.

However, the priority issue is restoring the damaged grazed, forested and farmed peatland to prevent it from leaking carbon. This will involve significant changes to how peat is currently managed.

A new taskforce on lowland agricultural peat has been set up to look at measures such as wet farming or “paludiculture” which involves crops that like growing in waterlogged soils.

It could be adopted to curb emissions and manage water and still maintain an economic output and extend the lifetime of fenland soils that have a finite farming life ahead of them.

That could include growing sphagnum moss, a plant which can itself be used as an alternative to peat compost for horticulture.

While there is some debate over the environmental impact of managed burning peat, the peat action plan states that evidence explains that overall, it is damaging peatland.

The new rules to ban burning, without a license, will protect 142,000 hectares of England’s upland deep peat from further damage by managed burning, which represents approximately 40% of all blanket bog.

The government has already invested over £8million in peatland restoration in 2020/21. It has also recently launched a four-year Nature for Climate Peatland Grant Scheme, which it intends to invest over £50m in by 2025.

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