Make an effort to halt decline of peat bogs
AS the nation’s gardeners prepare to shut down, clear up and get prepared for winter, can I make a plea that everyone opts to stop using peat? It is not a sustainable resource, it is finite, and we have nearly run out.
It’s a tough call, because a new survey reveals a lack of real choice for consumers looking for peat-free composts at garden centres and other outlets.
It highlights the need for more determined action to phase out peat use from the gardening industry and to protect wild peatlands.
This year nearly 300 volunteers responded to a survey by Friends of the Earth, Plantlife, RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts and the evidence was damming. They found that:
Only 19 per cent of almost 1,300 products on sale were clearly labelled as peat-free;
A third of respondents did not find peat-free compost clearly available;
Half of respondents who checked prices found peat-free compost to be more expensive than peat-based options;
There was often little awareness or concern about the impact of peat among retail staff;
Most respondents reported a lack of product choice, price incentive or clear labelling to encourage consumers to buy peat-free.
The survey results show how difficult it still is 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.
Environmental groups are calling on industry and governments to take determined action – and urgently – to protect remaining peatlands from the devastating impacts of this trade.
Industry figures show that:
Bagged peat-free compost increased from 5.9 per cent of the market in 2011 to nine per cent in 2015.
Peat still accounts for more than half of the total material used in bagged composts.
The amount of peat in the retail market increased by 50,000m3 from 2012 to 2015.
Across the UK garden industry, more than two million m3 of peat was used in 2015.
While commercial peat extraction from Britain’s bogs has been reduced, our use of peat in gardens is now degrading bogs elsewhere.
In 2015, more than half of our peat came from Ireland and around seven per cent from elsewhere in Europe (primarily the Baltic States) – leaving a third (around 700,000 tonnes) from peat-lands in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.
In Ireland, which is obviously close to my heart, the old days of family plots on a bog still do exist, like this shot here of the Carna Bog in Connemara from two weeks ago, but vast swathes of Irish bogland have been ripped up over the past forty years, and to hear that it is now being exported to the UK is little short of heart-breaking.
Peatland is home to a variety 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 five per cent 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 per cent of our water comes from British uplands and over half of this passes through peat. Make a, relatively, old man happy and stick to the alternatives.
Carna Bog in Connemara, Ireland