Over the fence: the peat de­bate

How can we stop us­ing peat in gar­den­ing?

Gardeners' World - - Contents -

What can gar­den­ers and com­post mak­ers do to achieve the Govern­ment’s com­mit­ment to halt its use by 2020?

Those who think there isn’t wilder­ness left in Bri­tain haven’t vis­ited Mun­sary Peat­lands, Plantlife’s 3,000-acre re­serve in Caith­ness. Mun­sary is a vast, un­du­lat­ing plain un­der huge skies. There are sleet storms in June and walk­ing on it is like wad­ing through por­ridge but it’s worth it for its beauty and wildlife: car­pets of colour­ful mosses and cot­ton grasses dot­ted with bog aspho­del, marsh vi­o­lets, cuck­ooflow­ers, sun­dews and com­mon but­ter­wort. These wild plants sup­port but­ter­flies, drag­on­flies and birds, in­clud­ing snipes and sky­larks. Peat­land also re­duces flood risk, cleans drink­ing wa­ter and stores vast amounts of car­bon. Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture, “A loss of only 5% of UK peat­land car­bon would equate to the to­tal an­nual UK green­house gas emis­sions”†. And we still think it’s okay to dig it up and pop it round our pot plants! Did you know that gar­den­ers used three bil­lion litres of peat last year? And it grows at just 1mm a year. Did you also know that the Govern­ment is com­mit­ted to phas­ing it out in the ama­teur gar­dener mar­ket by 2020? Plantlife, work­ing in part­ner­ship with the RHS (97 per cent peat free and count­ing), Na­tional Trust (100 per cent peat free), RSPB, Friends of the Earth and The Wildlife Trusts, is en­cour­ag­ing its mem­bers and the Govern­ment to hon­our this com­mit­ment. Just imag­ine if BBC Gar­den­ers’ World Mag­a­zine’s one mil­lion read­ers went peat-free this Easter? Peat is like a bad lover – we know it’s wrong and it’s time to move on. Even the most acid-lov­ing, peat-de­pen­dent plants like sun­dews and but­ter­wort can grow in good peat-free com­posts. We’ve got two years. Why wait?

Ithink the ques­tion ought to be: “Should we stop the use of peat in gar­den­ing?” or even “Why should we stop the use of peat in gar­den­ing?” The re­al­ity is there’s not enough avail­able ma­te­rial to cre­ate a suf­fi­cient quan­tity of peat-free com­post to re­place all the peat-based prod­ucts on the mar­ket – and that is a prob­lem for the gar­dener. More­over, it’s my opin­ion that peat-free com­posts don’t per­form well for gar­den­ers, other than as a soil con­di­tioner. So why not take a more sen­si­ble ap­proach and use a blend? We’re adding a num­ber of peat-free ma­te­ri­als into our blend, which also con­tains peat. For ob­vi­ous rea­sons, we don’t di­vulge our recipes, but I will say we’re us­ing 8,000 tonnes of peat-free ma­te­ri­als a year, most of which would have pre­vi­ously gone into land­fill. This re­duc­tion in the use of peat goes some way to limit en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact. It also helps to make our valu­able peat re­serves last longer while en­abling us to still meet the sup­ply de­mands of our cus­tomers. If we are to avoid a cri­sis by cre­at­ing a short­age of avail­able com­post, surely this is a more prag­matic way to ap­proach the is­sue. And as part of the fo­cus on re­duc­ing peat in prod­ucts, af­ter ex­ten­sive re­search, we have de­vel­oped a blend of re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als that ben­e­fit the en­vi­ron­ment by en­abling a re­duc­tion in the use of peat and help to pro­duce a lon­glast­ing nutri­ent boost to plant growth. Our com­pany en­sures best prac­tice tech­niques in the ex­trac­tion of peat, such as com­pre­hen­sive af­ter-use restora­tion, to cre­ate ar­eas of nat­u­ral re­gen­er­a­tion and habi­tat for wildlife as part of our en­vi­ron­men­tallyaware pol­icy. Of course, this work is on­go­ing, as we all try to be en­vi­ron­men­tally aware with­out com­pro­mis­ing qual­ity.

Dr Trevor Dines is a botan­i­cal ex­pert at con­ser­va­tion char­ity Plantlife and has ap­peared on BBC1’s Coun­try­file Chris Durston is di­rec­tor of his fam­ily busi­ness, which pro­duces both peatre­duced and peat-free com­posts

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