Why Peat has no place in our gardens
- Peat stores carbon, so digging up peat releases that carbon. A loss of only 5% of UK peatland carbon would be equal to the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.
- Water from our uplands filtered through peat bogs is of a higher quality than water from degraded bogs, so it’s cheaper to treat.
- Many plants, some of them rare, flourish in peat bogs and cannot thrive elsewhere. These wild plants support a range of butterflies, dragonflies and birds, including snipe and curlews, merlins and skylarks.
- The government has set targets to reduce the use of peat, but much more needs to be done. The amount of peat extracted in the UK has declined dramatically, but we get it from the Republic of Ireland instead. That hasn’t sorted the problem – we’ve just passed it on to Ireland.
What we can do
We can buy compost which doesn’t contain peat. The RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) has stopped using peat in its gardens, so has the Natural Trust. If they can do it, so can we.
There are several very good alternatives:
- Miracle Gro Peat-free – this is widely available and has controlled release fertiliser granules mixed in to avoid fertiliser lockup during shelf life. Fertiliser lockup is fairly common with peat-free materials and will reduce the availability of nutrients to developing seedlings/plants. Douglas Yeadon Hardware in Boston Spa stock this with a new small range of fully compostible plant pots and they offer a free local delivery service.
- Melcourt Sylvagro – very good as well and has come up top in Gardening Which trials for several years. It contains composted bark and is a good material. Not that widely available though, and is expensive.
- Other manufacturers produce/market peat-free materials eg. B&Q Peat-free, Wyevale Peat-free. Bord na Mona has also just launched a peat-free material.
Help the campaign to reduce peat use
The RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, Friends of the Earth and Plantlife are just some of the organisations calling on government and industry to stop the use of peat in gardening and horticulture.
We can do our bit too:
- Tell your friends and family about the issue and encourage them to go peat-free.
- Write to your MP to raise concern about the need for more urgent action by the government and industry.
- In Leeds, write to Councillor Hayden (Exec Member for Climate Change), Councillor Rafique (Exec Member for the Environment) and Councillor Walshaw (Chair of the Climate Change Advisory Committee) to make them aware of the significant inappropriateness of the selling of peat-based products at The Arium (see draft letter below (many thanks to Georgina Mills)).
- Support the organisations that are pushing for peat-free horticulture.
- Ask your local retailers to stock and promote more peat-free choices, to make it easier for consumers to go peat-free (see draft letter below (many thanks to Keith Jackson)).
Draft Letter to Leeds Councillors
Dear Councillors Hayden, Rafique and Walshaw,
This month is Peat Free April, a month-long campaign to encourage gardeners, horticulturists and garden centres to go peat free, and I am writing to you given your council responsibilities in the area of climate change and the environment – the fact that The Arium continues to predominantly sell peat-based compost and to sell plants grown by other growers using peat.
As you are very much aware, we are in a climate crisis and Leeds City Council declared a Climate Emergency in March 2019. Despite this emergency declaration, Leeds City Council is continuing to condone the ripping out of our richest carbon store straight from the ground and releasing it into carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through allowing the sale of peat-based compost at The Arium. This is absolute madness and must cease.
So why is peat important?
- Peat bogs are internationally rare habitats that support a diverse range of wildlife. These rare habitats must be protected to conserve the species who call them their home.
- Peat bogs are crucially important to mitigating against flooding. They soak up rainwater like a sponge and reduce it slowly, offering a nature-based solution to prevent the flooding of homes and businesses lower down. An issue of fundamental importance to certain areas of our city.
- Fundamentally, the peat bogs of the UK store 3 billion tonnes of carbon. That is more carbon than the forest of the Germany, France and the UK put together. It has to stay in the ground if we are to fight climate change.
As part of its Leeds Carbon Roadmap, Leeds City Council is looking at all sorts of strategies (some known and being planned; some yet unknown) to enable our city, its organisations and residents to reduce the levels of carbon emissions. All these strategies will be necessary and I am a proactive supporter of the approach being taken by the Council. I see that the Council is striving to ‘Leeds by Example’ through the adoption of electric vehicles in the Council’s fleet, through increasing the ability for residents to undertake more active travel within their local neighbourhoods, amongst many other welcome initiatives.
Yet despite this urgent need to reduce our city’s level of carbon emissions, the same Council still continues to sell peat-based compost and sell plants grown using peat in its Council-owned garden centre. It is hypocritical of the Council to be advocating for and encouraging behavioural change in its residents and businesses, when it is itself not making a FUNDAMENTAL REQUIRED SHIFT BY CEASING THE SALE OF PEAT-BASED COMPOST. It is not enough to offer one or two peat free alternatives when the majority of the compost offering is peat-based. It is not enough that The Arium no longer uses peat in its own planting; it must make a published commitment to work with growers from whom it buys plants for retail to cease buying peat-grown plants by a specified date. The Council must lead by example. The Council must facilitate and encourage gardeners to only use peat free compost.
Whilst I welcome the Council’s Woodland Creation Initiative by the Parks and Countryside department, the merits of this scheme look ridiculous when the same Council continues to sell peat-based products. At present the Council is putting income generation from the sale of peat-based products, ahead of the global issue of mitigating action against the climate crisis. This is not right.
Therefore, may ask of you, as elected councillors with the remit for enabling positive climate action in our city, to request and champion 3 things:
- Cease the sale of peat-based compost in 2021 at The Arium. This to be announced before COP26.
- Introduce promotion and education in The Arium and via other communication channels, to educate residents on the reasons for choosing peat-free compost and to help more residents learn how to make their own garden compost.
- Agree a strategy and publish a date by which The Arium will no longer sell plants grown using peat. This date should be ambitious and inspirational.
I ask my city council to lead by example and I look forward to hearing that the Council is being climate responsible in this important area. Peat must stay in the ground where it belongs and play a crucial role; not dug up just so folk can have lovely roses and the like.
Draft Letter to Retailers
Dear Store Manager,
I’ve noticed that you do not stock peat-free compost, nor are your plants grown in a peat-free medium. This doesn’t have to be. Several large garden centre chains have committed to reducing or even banishing peat, as have a number of large growing suppliers.
I am one of your many customers who wants to go peat-free.
Why? Because cutting peat out of the ground is contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Peat is the largest and most efficient land-based store of carbon, and the world’s second largest carbon store after the oceans. Peat bogs store on average 10 times more carbon per hectare than any other ecosystem, including forests (UN Environment Report 2011). Cutting peat also destroys a unique habitat which we cannot restore in our lifetime, nor our children’s, grandchildren’s or great grandchildren’s. It takes over 1,000 years to restore a peat bog. And over 95% of the UK’s bogs are now destroyed or degraded.
Please do your bit to help the environmental crisis we are facing. Stock peat-free composts for your customers. We know they are more expensive, but gardeners like myself are happy to pay for a good product which doesn’t harm the planet. And please investigate trade suppliers, such as Dobies, who grow in peat-free medium.
As customers know, we can shop elsewhere if you don’t stock peat-free compost.