The Promised Retail Ban On UK Peat Sales By 2024 Has Been Confirmed After 95% Of Consultation Respondents Were in Favour. Here’s The Detail & What It Means To Gardeners

The Retail Ban On UK Peat Sales has now been confirmed, though the details still needs to be established. In some reports the ban will take place by 2024, whilst others say by the end of 2024. The difference being that sales could continue for a year longer than reported by the former sources.

However, by the end of 2024 or by 2024, is a detail. Though important it doesn’t change the fact that a long campaigned for ban is now happening. Government is behind it because the ban is an easy win for them as they attempt carbon zero in the next few years. And though it’ll upset a few gardeners, there are relatively few jobs in peat extraction, so don’t expect much protest from there.

This view might be regarded as cynical, but the fact remains that a consultation of extractors, garden centres and the public resulted in 5,000 responses and 95% were in favour of a ban!

The ban has been announced by the UK government but only affects England. It doesn’t apply to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Why Ban Peat Sales in the UK?

Peat is an important natural resource and though renewable, it takes thousands of years to renew.

Peat is a natural carbon sink and sequesters billions of tons of carbon. Peat extraction releases that carbon and this is damaging the climate and is resulting in heat waves, drought and uncertainty at many levels.

With drought we have seen our water supplies dwindling. Reservoir levels have dropped dramatically and boreholes are at risk as ground water levels drop to all time lows.

Peat areas are actually important suppliers of water for human consumption with around 70% of our water supply having landed on, or run through, peat on its journey to our taps.

Peat areas also help our water supply by rationing the supply. Water in peat bogs is slowly released over months and this means we don’t see rivers rising and failing as dramatically as they do without peat areas. When peat bogs are harvested for peat the degree of downstream flooding can dramatically increase.

If we don’t protect our peatlands we may not have enough water for our gardens or to drink.

Stefan Drew

Vast amounts of carbon is stored in peat bogs .. Peatlands account for 12% of the UK’s land area and contain more carbon than the forests of the UK, France and Germany combined – an estimated 3,200 million tonnes. 

Public support for the Ban On UK Peat Sales went far beyond the 5000 respondents to the consultation. The Wildlife Trusts supported and promoted the ban and spoke for a UK wide membership of 870,000 members.

From a government perspective the ban is a major element of the England peat action plan and a carbon zero target.

What The Ban On UK Peat Sales Means for Gardeners

Peat was for a long time seen as a key element in successful gardening. It was used for sowing seeds and raising plants. Being easy to bag and transport made it ideal for many gardeners. There was however a time before peat, when gardeners produced their own compost and used that to raise seedlings.

Historically peat extraction goes back many years. It wasn’t always used for horticulture. In its time it’s been used for heating and cooking. It’s in more recent years that the horticultural uses increased.

Peat gatherers
Historically peat was gathered for heating and cooking

Historically peat was gathered for heating and cooking – see above image

Many gardeners claim peat is superior for seedling production, but I beg to differ and most professional gardeners recognise that there are plenty of viable alternatives. Many would claim that home made compost is actually superior to peat.

In my own case I produce my own seedling compost based on well rotted farmyard manure and home sterilised loam. The loam is sterilised in the microwave and mixed with the compost at roughly a 50:50 ratio. This is where skill is needed as the mix is by eye to give me the compost mix I believe will best suit the seed I’m sowing. It takes a bit of skill but gardeners learn many skills when they start gardening. One more isn’t going to deter them and it isn’t that hard to learn.

Peat Alternatives In The Garden

In addition to producing home made compost there are other ways to survive the peat ban.

Buy or use peat alternatives. Peat alternatives made from composted bark, wood fibre or coir are available. Personally I  have doubts about coir as, though a natural product, the way it is processed uses huge quantities of water and the coir then has to be transported half way around the world.

Anaerobic digestates, bracken, sheep wool and green compost are also composted and can be used as peat alternatives.

Mulching and soil enrichment alternatives to peat include bark, wood chip, wood shavings, composted animal manures etc.

Ban On UK Peat Sales: Limitations & Future Opportunities

The ban on retails sales has many shortcomings.

Firstly it currently only applies to England. It is for Wales, Scotland and Norther Ireland to decide how they deal with peat sales.

The ban in England is for retail bagged peat only. I’m still not clear if it will apply to bulk purchased peat. It specifically applies to retail peat. There appears to be a loophole regards the commercial purchase of peat. If so this means that commercial plant growers will still be able to use peat to produce the plants that are sold in garden centres!

The above are limitations but also opportunities for us to request our local garden centres that peat is not used at any stage of the growing or procurement process. Ask your local garden centre if they re supplying peat free plants.

Responsible Sourcing Scheme

The degree of product sustainability will in future be indicated by a labelling scheme under the Responsible Sourcing Scheme.

The industry, via the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA), now has access to a Responsible Sourcing Calculator and we ought to expect more sustainability transparency in future.

The Ban On UK Peat Sales; Facts & Figures

“In the UK, more than 18 million tonnes of carbon are emitted every year by damaged peat lands.”

BBC News

“In the UK it is estimated there is over 3 billion tonnes of carbon stored in the peatlands, equivalent to all carbon stored in the forests in the UK, Germany and France together (Moors for the Future, 2019)

Peat is dominant in the higher grounds and so a significant proportion of the UK’s water supply lands or flows through peatlands. It is estimated 70% of the drinking water as a whole comes from upland areas (Scottish Forum on Natural Capital, 2016; IUCN, 2018b).

In the UK water abstraction for the public water supply peaked in 2005 with the apportioned figure for water from peaty catchments at 1,983 million cubic metre, see Figure 2. A possible reason for the decline from 2005 is more efficient and sustainable use of water, as advocated in the Water Act 2003. As a result, fewer licences have been granted for water abstraction in England and Wales, with fewer being issued annually in the last decade than between 1997 and 2002.”

Peatlands account for 12% of the UK’s land area and contain more carbon than the forests of the UK, France and Germany combined – an estimated 3,200 million tonnes. 


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