Monty Don calls on gardeners to stop using peat
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Peat has been a staple ingredient in British gardening composts since the 1960s, accounting for 35 percent of all compost sales in the UK. This spongy turf is taken from natural peatlands which play a huge role in absorbing carbon from the atmosphere – something National Trusts are urging gardeners to preserve amid the COP26 summit. Express.co.uk spoke to environmental scientist Angela Terry to find out the true impact a peat ban could really have on climate change and what your alternatives are when it comes to garden compost.
Why is peat compost bad for the environment?
Peatlands also known as peatbogs play an enormously positive role on the environment as they can store one third of all the world’s soil carbon.
While rainforests and woodlands serve a similar function, a 10 metre deep peatland can store eight times as much carbon as the equivalent area of a tropical rainforest.
Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, environmental scientist and founder of One Home, Angela Terry said: “When you mine peat you lose all those benefits, but you also release the carbon captured within them – first when the peatbog is drained prior to mining, and then when the peat is spread on fields and gardens, which adds to greenhouse gas levels.”
According to Friends of the Earth, losing just 5 percent of UK peatland carbon would be the equivalent of the UK’s entire annual greenhouse gas emissions.
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When will peat compost be phased out?
The National Trusts’ call for a ban on the use of peat in compost products marks the end of the first week of the COP 26 climate summit which is being held in Glasgow.
Organisations from 19 countries have united to voice their request, adding that “a failure to implement a ban will undermine any climate and nature commitments made by world leaders at COP 26”, says the National Trust.
While the latest push on a Government enforced ban is welcomed by environmentalists across the globe, Angela says the damage caused by dug-up peat is not new knowledge.
She added: “In 2018 The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) set a deadline to phase out peat for garden use by 2020 but then extended that to its current deadline of 2024.
“The longer we wait the more peatland we lose and the more greenhouse gases warm the planet with catastrophic consequences.”
How will the peat ban help the climate crisis?
By stopping the demand for horticultural peat, conservation organisations hope to protect precious peatlands.
Leaving peat bogs untouched will protect ‘one of the most important naturally occurring defences to climate change’, says the National Trust – something which takes thousands of years to redevelop once lost.
Angela added that a ban on peat in amateur gardening will achieve four things:
- Give peat bogs the chance to recover
- Stop the emission of greenhouse gases from mining and spreading peat
- It will help restore the habitats of rare plants and animals
- Show people that we don’t have to stick with carbon emitting habits just because they feel familiar
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Peat is popular because it is effective at retaining moisture and oxygen for a well fed plant that isn’t waterlogged.
It also serves as a natural anti-fungal product for seedlings.
The 2024 goal to ban peat will mean that it can no longer be used on our garden plants – but there are alternatives.
Angela recommends that the best alternative is to make your own potting mix, using:
- Three parts coir (a waste product from coconut production) sold in garden centres
- One part sieved garden compost (from your own compost heap)
- One part regular garden soil and part sharp sand
She added: “Invest in a worm farm. Worms eat potato peelings, coffee grinds, tea bags, veg scraps and even hair and turn it into worm casts which are pure gold for your garden soil.”
Peat free alternatives are not only better for the environment, but they can also work equally as well in the garden as peat-packed compost.
Monty Don’s long meadow home (as shown on Gardeners’ World), is a prime example of a peat-free wonder, says Angela, adding: “Monty hasn’t used peat compost for years but has one of the most stunning gardens in the country.”
When choosing your peat-free alternative, you should remember:
- Alternatives are not as flexible as peat-based compost so you should choose the right compost for particular jobs and places – such as container planting
- If you have seedlings, wait until they are slightly larger and stronger before separating them out into pots
- Water peat-free seedlings more heavily at this point too.
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