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Peatlands Destruction Continues As UK Government Bows to Professional Growers

24th March 2023

The UK government has faced criticism for its “bitterly disappointing” decision to delay a ban on peat-based compost for the professional horticulture market until 2030.

While the ban on peat-based compost for private gardeners is set to go ahead in 2024, environmental campaigners have slammed the delay in the professional sector ban, arguing that it does not go far enough in protecting peatlands and reducing carbon emissions.

Peatlands are crucial habitats for a wide range of flora and fauna, and they also play an essential role in storing carbon. However, the extraction of peat for use in gardening products has caused significant damage to these ecosystems, with only around 13% of peatlands in the UK considered to be in a near-natural state.

Last year, the government announced that it would ban the sale of peat-based compost to private gardeners in England by the end of 2024. This was a step in the right direction, but campaigners argue that it doesn’t go far enough.

“The decision to allow the sale of peat-containing products to continue until 2030 does not reflect the value of peatlands – here and abroad – and is at odds with this Government’s manifesto commitment to ‘deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth,’ said Ailis Watts from Wild Trusts.

The delay in the ban for professional growers has often been attributed to the difficulties in finding alternatives to peat-based products. There are concerns about the impact on crop yields and plant health if peat is no longer used.

Alternatives such as willow have been tried, but they have not been as effective as peat based composts.

However, critics argue that the delay is simply unacceptable, and that the government needs to do more to protect peatlands and reduce carbon emissions.

The Wildlife Trusts estimate that policy failure to stop peat extraction has caused up to 31 million tonnes of CO2 to be released since 1990.

Finding alternatives to peat-based compost is a complex issue that requires a concerted effort from scientists, growers, and policymakers. While there are some alternatives available, such as coir and composted bark, they do not always perform as well as peat-based products.

However, peatlands are vital for nature and the climate, and their protection should be a top priority.

The government has set a target to restore 35,000 hectares of peatlands by 2025, and it has been estimated that restoring peatlands could reduce carbon emissions by up to 10 million tonnes per year.

However, restoring some peatlands while degrading others for use in gardening products is a contradiction.

The government’s delay in banning peat-based compost for the professional horticulture market until 2030 is unacceptable. Protecting peatlands should be a top priority, and the government must do more to find alternatives to peat-based products.

The government is already spending £33 million a year on restoring peatlands. Now is the time to put additional money into urgent research into peat alternatives.

Featured image of a peat moor is by Pixa Bay.