Industry reacts to government plans to phase out peat

Plans to ban the use of peat in horticulture in England and Wales by the end of this Parliament have been set out by the Government in an effort to protect peatland habitats and meet net zero targets.

Peatlands are the UK’s largest carbon store and are routinely dug up in the UK for horticultural purposes, such as for growing media. Bagged retail growing media accounts for 70% of the peat sold in the UK. When this extraction takes place, the carbon stored inside the bog is released as carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change.

Peat extraction also degrades the state of the wider peatland landscape, damaging habitats for rare species of flora and fauna, and negatively impacting peat’s ability to prevent flooding and filter water.

In a consultation published over the weekend, the Government has set out measures to phase out the sale of peat and peat-containing products in the amateur sector by the end of this Parliament. Organisations with an interest in peatland protection, horticultural businesses and associations, and those who import and export peat products, are being asked for their views on new measures to end the use of peat products in horticulture.

The 12-week consultation is also seeking views on introducing point-of-sale measures for bagged growing media containing peat and mandatory labelling, mandatory reporting of the volume of peat sold, potential exemptions, including for scientific purposes, and a maximum amount of peat allowed in certain products.

But the Growing Media Taskforce says these would not address the challenge of sourcing alternatives. James Barnes, spokesperson for the Growing Media Taskforce, says: “We are an industry that understands the importance of protecting our planet – we produce trees and plants – the essential nature-based solutions to climate change. We are committed to taking every realistic step towards ending peat use and earlier this year set out to Defra a comprehensive plan which outlines the action required by industry and, critically, by government, if this ambition is to be realised. Neither a ban [nor] point of sale taxes will address fundamental problems with availability of alternatives to peat…

“A ban on peat will cause a shortfall of around 1.5 million cubic metres of material that goes into bags of compost for gardeners. It will not help solve the shortage in alternative materials.”

The Growing Media Taskforce is calling for the government to accelerate research and development, a call echoed by the RHS. Commenting on the consultation, Alistair Griffiths, director of science at the RHS, says: “The RHS believes that through government, NGOs and industry working together – alongside an army of 30 million gardeners – we can play a key role in helping to reverse the climate and biodiversity crisis.

“A collective effort should be made on helping to grow home composting as a sustainable alternative and providing information on using the right product in the right place. We also want to see changes to legislation that prevent use of alternative waste materials, such as timber, and the prevention of allowable contamination in green waste local authority contracts to help unlock alternatives to peat, as well as urgent R&D funding to help accelerate the transition to peat free. In particular, for peat free plug plant production, the trialling of new waste products and growing of difficult plant groups. Similarly, match funding for capital investment, infrastructure allowances and fiscal incentives to help growing media manufacturers and growers update their equipment, facilities, and processes and increase their production and use of peat alternatives, as is the case with the car industry’s transition from fossil fuel to electric, would help galvanise action.”

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