A government consultation has learned that more than a third of the compost sold in the UK in the last year was peat.
Peatlands cover just 3% of the planet’s surface but hold twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests put together. Digging and degrading peatland releases CO2, one of the greenhouse gases driving the climate crisis, into the atmosphere.
Peatlands are some of our most important wildlife habitats: blanket bog, upland flushes, fens and swamps, lowland raised bog and fens are all UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) priority habitats. These damp, colourful wetlands support mosses, fungi and carnivorous plants that grow nowhere else, as well as rare insects and birds.
Fungi and carnivorous plants that grow nowhere else
The government’s original goal was a voluntary ending of retail sales of peat by 2020. But this has failed. Almost 5 million cubic metres of compost was sold in the UK in 2021, 33% of it peat. But while peat made up only 30% of the compost purchased by private gardeners, more than 50% of that bought by horticulture businesses was peat.
The government proposes banning peat compost sales to gardeners by 2024 and ending sales to professional growers by 2028. The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) seems to oppose any ban on peat sales, claiming that without a viable alternative, the banning of peat may have unintended consequences for food security. It also wants exemptions for plug plants and mushroom production.
Commercial peat cutting
It took thousands of years for our peatlands to develop, with peat accumulating by only a tiny amount each year. Large areas have been lost to commercial peat extraction or damaged by inappropriate land management. We must act if we are to save what is left.
The retailers of the bags of compost that are sold outside supermarkets and garden centres are required to tell you if their product contains peat. Read the bags carefully; if they don’t say peat free, assume that they contain peat and do not buy your compost there.