Government’s peat phase-out ‘not ambitious enough’, conservationists warn

Sales of peat for gardening to be banned in England and Wales from 2024

Harry Cockburn
Environment Correspondent
Monday 20 December 2021 17:24
<p>Peat being cut from the land on the Isle of Harris in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides</p>

Peat being cut from the land on the Isle of Harris in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides

The sale of peat for use in domestic horticulture is to be banned in England and Wales from 2024, and for professional use by 2028, the government has said.

But conservationists said the government's consultation process on the ban has “set the bar too low”, and have called for an immediate ban on all peat sales, peat extraction and peat imports to help address the worsening climate and biodiversity crises.

In the UK the extraction of peat is primarily for horticultural usage, forming a key component of compost.

But peatlands are increasingly being recognised as a vital carbon store, with the UK's peat bogs holding around 3 billion tonnes of carbon – or as much as ​​the forests of the UK, Germany and France combined.

Peatlands also help to store water, slowing surface-water run off and preventing soil erosion and flooding. They form rich ecosystems which support increasingly rare plants and animals

Despite their crucial role, just 13 per cent of the UK's peatlands are in good condition, and their degradation releases the carbon they have stored.

In their current woeful state, peatlands in England emit around 10 million tonnes of CO2 every year – around the same as the UK’s industrial processes.

The government said: “By ending the retail sale of peat in horticulture, we will be protecting our vulnerable peatlands and helping to prevent climate change.”

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “Our peatlands are an incredibly valuable natural resource. They play a crucial role in locking up carbon, provide habitats for wildlife and help with flood mitigation.

“The amateur gardening sector has made huge strides in reducing peat use and there are now more sustainable and good quality peat-free alternatives available than at any other time, so I am confident now is the right time to make the shift permanent.

“Today’s consultation directly contributes towards the government’s net zero carbon emissions target. The protection of our peatlands will also help us deliver on commitments in the 25 Year Environment Plan whilst also preserving these landscapes for future generations.”

But Craig Bennett, the chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts described the consultation as a “damp squib”, and called for an immediate outright ban.

He said: “The UK government has been dithering over this crucial issue for decades and the consultation on the use of peat by gardeners is long overdue. But this consultation is a damp squib. It refers to amateur gardeners – but why not professional gardeners and the rest of the industry? It refers to the damaging effects of peat extraction – but this activity is still allowed in England which is absurd given the excellent alternatives to peat that are now available.

“Peatlands are vital carbon-storing habitats and it’s absolutely crucial that they remain intact for nature’s sake and to help us tackle climate change. When a peatland is degraded or extracted from, it stops storing carbon and emits it instead. So it’s vital that UK governments ensure peatlands function as nature intended by taking urgent action right now.

“This means an immediate ban on the use of peat by individuals and the wider horticulture industry, an immediate end to extracting peat, and a ban on the import of peat in any form – right now.”

Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, said: “Our peatlands exemplify the multiple benefits society can reap from healthy natural systems. Healthy peatlands are among our most precious habitats, offering a home to some our scarcest plants and animals. They comprise diverse landscapes too, located not only in our remote uplands but also in lowland areas, such as fens.”

“Peatlands are also among our most beautiful landscapes, including in the National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, that we hope even more people will enjoy during the years ahead. By restoring peatlands, we can protect and increase all of these valuable benefits.

“We are proud to be able to deliver the next round of funding for the Discovery Grants, which will unlock barriers faced for smaller, up and coming projects and will make a major difference to protecting these precious habitats. This will contribute to building a wider Nature Recovery Network across the entire country.”

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