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Government sets low bar on phase out of gardeners’ use of peat

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 said: “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.”

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 the amateur market
  • An immediate end to the sale and use of peat in the professional market.
  • The immediate cessation of the extraction of peat from the UK’s peatlands.
  • An immediate end to the importation of 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.
  • Restoration of all bogs damaged by the removal of peat as a priority.
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