Date: 07 October
Cost of taking action: £/$/€ NIL
Peat, and garden products that include peat, should be avoided: here’s why
Traditionally, peat would be cut from peat bogs and used in agriculture and in gardens, because it can be added to soil and is very fertile.
Although very damaging, it is still used in many products.
We know that the decimation of peat bogs is having a very serious environmental impact and consequently we need to curtail or totally prevent the use of peat as a growing medium. The impact of the use of peat is twofold – firstly damage to the important ecosystems that have been supported by peat bogs, and secondly as a result of the disproportionate, very high CO2 emissions arising from its use.
What is peat?
Peat is an accumulation of partially decayed organic matter under water. Because it is under water, it doesn’t release carbon as it decays, therefore peat bogs are the largest and most efficient carbon store on earth (10 times more carbon per hectare than any other ecosystem, including forests. Thus they are an important defense against climate change.
Peatlands are found in only a few parts of the world. Many peatlands have been growing undisturbed for thousands of years, so although they cover just 3% of the world’s land area, they hold nearly 30% of all the carbon stored on land.
To give an idea of how damaging the destruction of peatland is … the poor condition of the UK peatlands leads to emissions the equivalent of a whopping 5% of the UK’s greenhouse gases every year – that’s more than the annual emissions of all the HGVs on UK roads. (Source: https://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/peat)
Peat is of great importance to our planet:
- as a carbon store
- for wildlife
- for water management
To perform these critical functions, peat must stay wet. Unfortunately, for centuries, peat and its vegetation have been cultivated, drained and degraded. Dry peat is easily eroded and washed away, and releases carbon dioxide.
Alternatives to using peat-based compost
Environmentalists, governments, and gardening organisations all agree that the use of peat should be phased out. Sadly, gardeners still account for most of the peat that is used in composts and growing bags.
Many gardeners don’t realise that multi-purpose compost, unless it’s clearly labelled ‘peat free’, contains at least 70 per cent peat, and just buy the cheapest to fill up their pots and tubs for the summer.
The quality and consistency of peat-free media has improved in recent years and more alternative materials (such as bark, coir, green compost and wood waste) is now being used. In addition, consumer awareness of carbon emissions has put pressure on manufacturers to reduce their peat use.
What you can do
Please take action to reduce the high carbon footprint of your gardening activities.
Find out what’s in the bag of compost or soil conditioner you are thinking of buying and if it is peat based, ask for peat-reduced, or better still, peat-free. Then be sure to follow the instructions on a peat-free product carefully to get the best results; for example be prepared to water and feed a little more frequently.
Experiment with different kinds of peat-free products until you find one that suits your garden. Have a look at gardening forums to find out what other people have used successfully.
Best of all, make your own compost and use it to improve soil, or use well-rotted animal manure from a local farms.
Don’t use peat or peat-based compost as a mulch – again use your own compost or other renewable materials such as wood chips, wood shavings and bark. See this article for more about mulching.
When buying potted plants, choose ones that have been grown in peat-free compost. If your supplier doesn’t know, ask them to find out.
Happy peat-free gardening!