Government seeks to ban sale of peat by 2024
The UK Government states its aim to put an end to the sale of peat in the horticulture industry as part of its goal to achieve net zero and improve biodiversity.
The government is launching a consultation with an aim to ban the sale of peat to amateur gardeners by 2024 - 14 years after it first announced its intention to ban the digging of peat and destruction of bogland for the business of horticulture.
In 2010 the then coalition government announced a voluntary agreement for the phasing out of peat by 2020 for amateur gardeners, and 2030 f0r the professional sector. But the voluntary approach has failed — 2019 levels of peat sales were just 25% below those in 2011, and sales in the UK actually rose by 9% during the pandemic as more people took to gardening as a hobby. The amateur sector makes up 70% of horticultural peat use.
Earlier this year a number of high profile gardeners including Alan Titchmarsh, Kate Bradbury and James Wong backed a letter written by Prof Dave Goulson calling on the government to ban the use of peat in compost, which gardening celebrity Monty Don has called “environmental vandalism”.
The long awaited government announcement forms part of its England Peat Action Plan, which aims to restore at least 35,000 hectares of peatland by 2025, contributing to meeting our net zero targets and improving biodiversity.
However, two-thirds of peat sold in the UK for horticultural uses is imported from other European countries, which essentially means that we are exporting our carbon footprint. Much of that import came from Ireland, though Ireland’s Bord na Mona has now formally ended all peat harvesting on its land, marking its transformation from a peat selling operation to a climate solutions company.
Launching the consultation on the ban, which will include imported peat, Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:
“Our peatlands are an incredibly valuable natural resource. They play a crucial role in locking up carbon, provide habitats for wildlife and help with flood mitigation.
“The amateur gardening sector has made huge strides in reducing peat use and there are now more sustainable and good quality peat-free alternatives available than at any other time, so I am confident now is the right time to make the shift permanent.”
But conservation organisations are critical of yet another delay with the proposed 2024 deadline and want a total ban in both the amateur and professional horticulture sector to take immediate effect.
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.
“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.”
There are sustainable alternatives to peat which are of comparable quality to peat-based products available. These are often made up of peat-free materials derived from more sustainable sources, for example wood fibre and bark, green compost, wool, coir and other materials.
The government plans to ban the use of peat in horticulture in England and Wales by the end of the current Parliament. The consultation lasts for 12 weeks and closes on 18th March 2022.
Andrew Griffiths is an environment and angling writer and podcaster. He writes for publications in the UK and USA, including BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC Wildlife Magazine, and Gray’s Sporting Journal in the States.