Peat compost: Why is the use of peat compost controversial? What is peat-free compost?

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Peat is hugely important to the planet for several reasons. Peat compost is very controversial and now many environmentalists are calling for the Government to take tougher action against retailers continuing to sell peat compost. But why is the use of peat so controversial?

Gardening experts, conservationists and scientists are calling for the UK Government to ban the sales of peat compost this year.

The demand comes after the Government set an aim of undertaking a voluntary phaseout by 2020 which experts have hailed an “abject failure”.

Organisations have penned a letter to the Secretary of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to demand changes.

The letter reads: “In 2011, the Government set voluntary targets to end sale of peat-based compost for domestic use by 2020.

“This has been an abject failure.

“A survey by the Wildlife Trusts of leading garden retailers to be published tomorrow highlights how much an enforced ban is needed.

“Any of the big garden centre chains or supermarkets could make a bold decision and go peat-free.”

What is peat compost?

Peat is a natural product which is made from partially composted mosses and plants in waterlogged, acidic bogs.

This product is formed very slowly over thousands of years.

Peat has been used by commercial growers and amateur gardeners since the mid-20th century.

The UK is one of the world’s top 10 countries in terms of peatland area, with nearly five million acres.

Why is peat-based compost controversial?

Environmentalists, the Government, and gardening organisations all agree that the use of peat should be phased out and replaced by sustainable and if possible, locally sourced alternatives.

Restoration of peatlands is a crucial part of the Government’s strategy to tackle climate change.

Roughly 10 years ago, the UK Government devised a voluntary agreement for retailers to phase out the sale of peat.

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Peat is very important to the planet as a carbon source because it holds more carbon than the combined forests in Britain, France and Germany.

Area for area, peatlands store more carbon than rainforests.

The product is also very important for wildlife with many rare species inhabiting peatlands.

Additionally, peat is crucial for water management, with peat holding up to 20 times its own weight in water.

Archaeologically, peat is important as it preserves a record of past vegetation, landscapes and people.

When peat is used in gardens, carbon emissions are released and habitats are damaged.

At least 80 percent of British peatlands are damaged.

Just one out of 20 leading garden retailers has pledged to eliminate peat from its shelves this year, according to a survey carried out by wildlife campaigners.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts said: “Our survey shows that most retailers’ approach to the voluntary ban on peat sales has been woeful – even though the industry has been aware of the problem for decades.

“The time for voluntary agreements is over – the sale of peat must end now.

“Countless promises have been broken, and targets missed with the result that precious peatland habitats are still being unnecessarily destroyed in the name of gardening.”

Mr Bennett added: “Peatlands are vital wildlife habitats and it’s absolutely crucial that they remain intact to help us tackle climate change.

“The Government can ensure that these important carbon stores function as nature intended by banning peat sales now.”

Only one retailer, Travis Perkins, has announced its intention to eliminate peat from its shelves by 2021.

Tips for peat-free gardening

Make sure to specifically buy peat-free compost.

Be aware peat is commonly found in most growing media such as multipurpose compost and growing bags.

Always check the ingredients in your compost as words such as “environmentally-friendly” and “organic” do not necessarily mean the compost is peat-free.

Try to create your own compost at home or put your garden waste in council bins so it can be used locally.

Speak to your loved ones and other gardening enthusiasts about peat-free compost to ensure they also try to garden peat-free.

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