Gardeners persist in using peat, despite environmental pleas

Patrick Sawer
Despite alternatives being readily available for use as compost and bedding, British gardeners continue to buy endangered peat - Heathcliff O'Malley

Gardeners are continuing to use the country’s endangered peat supplies instead of alternative bedding, despite repeated warnings by environmentalists.

Speaking ahead of one of the busiest gardening weekends of the year campaigners have urged growers to use peat-free alternatives to help conserve supplies.

They say that peat is a vital asset in the fight against climate change, as it absorbs more carbon dioxide than trees.

However it takes thousands of years for peat bogs to develop, leaving them shrinking as they continue to be harvested for fuel, farming and gardening. According to the campaign group Plantlife commercial extraction can remove over 500 years’ worth of peat growth in a single year.

Environmentalists say despite alternatives being readily available for use as compost and bedding, British gardeners continue to buy peat, with sales at three billion litres a year in the UK and rising.

Ben McCarthy, chair of the Peat Partnership said: “In the fight against climate change, the peatlands of the British Isles are one of our greatest assets: we cannot underestimate their importance for carbon capture.

“In the UK they hold more carbon than forests, but the extraction of peat destroys this carbon-rich habitat and results in significant carbon emissions and the lost potential of carbon sequestration. Advances in alternative growing media mean that peat can be left in the ground. Governments across the UK need to act immediately to end the use of peat for horticulture and other commercial purposes”.

Peat-free bedding is widely available, argue environmentalists Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley/The Telegraph

Environmentalist say peat extraction in the UK not only disturbs rare wildlife which relies on it, such the golden plover and the chequered skipper butterfly, but also releases an estimated million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.

Gardening experts point out there are viable alternatives for composting which do not use peat and are suitable for Britain’s favourite bedding plants, such as marigolds, geraniums, begonias and tomatoes.

Trevor Dines, the gardening broadcaster, said: “A well-stocked display of summer garden plants and vegetables is a delight, providing instant colour and food for insects, to last the season long. But in using peat as compost for these plants, we are quite literally ‘costing the earth’.

“The good news is that our top 10 favourites will enjoy peat-free compost, which is readily available at garden centres – it’s just as effective and competitively priced. Most importantly, it has zero impact on the environment.”

Dr Dines, Presenter of Channel 4’s Wild Things, pointed that the National Trust has been peat-free for several years and that the Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens are 97% peat-free.

“The Government is committed to phasing out peat use for gardeners. Be ahead of the curve and join us in urging friends and relatives to go #peatfreenow,” he told Plantlife’s website.

In 2010 Hilary Benn, Labour’s then Environment Secretary, announced a new target to phase out the use of peat compost in amateur gardens by 2020, but shied away from imposing a ban, provoking criticism from campaigners who said tougher action should have been taken.

It remains a government target to phase out the use of peat in industry and amateur horticulture.