“Peatlands are fragile, important habitats that act as huge carbon sinks, absorbing greenhouse gases from our atmosphere. It makes no sense to damage one home to make another” – Alys Fowler
Alongside growing recognition of the importance of protecting peatland in various industries, many in the horticultural industry are pushing for peat-free compost. This month a team of gardeners and writers started a campaign called PeatFree April, calling for people across the UK to buy only compost that is peat-free during the month of April (and beyond!). For Peat’s Sake was launched last year by Garden Organic with the same intention: put pressure on the horticultural industry to promote and use alternatives to peat compost.
So, why is peat bad for use in gardening anyway?
Or perhaps conversely, why is it so good?
Peat is frequently used as growing media because of its consistency and moisture-retaining qualities, that both professional and amateur gardeners alike find beneficial. In order to support the horticultural industry, peat is harvested on an industrial scale. This commercial harvesting of peat is not sustainable as the yearly “growth” of peat is just a millimeter per year. As Plantlife notes, the commercial extraction of peat can equate to 500 years worth of “growth” in just one year.
The movement to go peat-free is definitely growing. However, considering that there has been conversation on this topic for several decades now, the horticultural industry is still very reliant upon peat as a growing media. In 2011 the government in the UK decided upon voluntary targets to phase out peat use; for amateur gardening the date set was 2020 and for professionals 2030. Despite this, the horticultural industry remains highly dependent on peat as a growing media. Voluntary targets appear not to be strong enough to resist the continuing profit to be made by the horticultural industry.
One of the key arguments against going peat-free is the lack of alternatives. Some of these concerns are well-intentioned, especially when it comes to substitutes that may be as harmful as what they are substituting. (Think natural gas as a substitute for coal!). However, is it really the case that there are not viable alternatives?
Consistency issues tend to be the most common reason why peat-free options are unfavoured by some. For this reason, many companies and brands have opted for reducing the peat concentration, rather than implementing full bans on peat in their compost.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), however, advises people to: “Preferably, choose peat-free compost with good on-label information.” These peat-free options tend to include bark-based compost, coir (coconut fibre), wood fibres and green compost, as well as materials such as sand and grit to overcome issues of consistency.
That being said, it is currently the case that many gardening stores do not stock a wide-range of peat-free products. The alternatives seem to be out there, but the ease of attaining them is not yet up to speed.
It is, however, very clear that the use of peat has to be phased out in the name of tackling the climate crisis. Peat is a hugely important ecosystem, and a valuable tool in tackling this crisis.The Committee of Climate Change (CCC) in the UK advised the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to have stopped all extraction of peat by 2023. Currently the aim of DEFRA is to have phased out peat use in all markets by 2030.
We think we can achieve it faster than that! What do you think?
What can you do?
Follow For Peat’s Sake and PeatFree April on social media
Go peat-free in your own growing community
Spread the message in your community
Ask the local gardening centre about peat-free compost
If you are in the UK, check out the For Peat’s Sake website to request it
If you are in the Netherlands, keep an eye on RE-PEAT’s own resources on where to get peat-free products
Write to your local MP and governing body on this matter
Make your own compost (Garden Organic link)
Where can you find more information?
On the importance of peat and on peat-free growing
On peat-free growing media
On campaigns for peat-free compost
Updates from the UK
Horticulture Weekly’s update on the 2020 strategy