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Sustainable Gardening: Part with Peat

Peat has been a major ingredient of the compost used in gardening for many years. It is mainly derived from peat bogs which are among the rarest and most fragile environments in the UK and are often hundreds of years old. Natural peat bogs are being destroyed to meet the demand for composts and the peatlands of the UK are now some of the most endangered natural habitats in the country. With only 6000 hectares of bog left in the UK that is in a natural condition, this equates to a loss of 94% of all peatbogs in the UK. Both Churt's Flashes Nature Reserve and Thursley National Nature Reserve  have important areas of peat bog.

The peat business is extremely damaging to the climate, as estimates believe that removing and processing peat for composts release around 630 000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. The peat used in the UK is also sourced from Ireland or Baltic nations such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, meaning further carbon is emitted during transportation. Peat extraction also destroys valuable ecosystems and threatens extinction to rare and endangered species.

The problems with peat have been known for at least 20 years, but it is proving very difficult to phase out of common usage, with almost half of composts used in Britain continuing to be peat-based.Famous gardeners that have spoken out against using peat-based composts include Alan Titchmarch, Monty Don and Charlie Dimmock. The RHS also support gardening peat free.

Peat-free growing media, including compost and soil conditioners, are increasingly available however many products still use peat as their organic ingredient. Even ‘Low peat’ products, those that claim to be from ‘sustainable sources’ and the soil in potted plants can still contain a high proportion of peat.

Mist over a bog pond at Thursley Nationa

A misty morning over one of the bog ponds at Thursley National Nature Reserve.

Axe Pond at the Flashes

Axe Pond at the Flashes

How can I go peat free?

1. Make your own compost 

The benefits of composting your garden and kitchen waste are two-fold. You will reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill and provide a habitat for a range of minibeasts. The community of minibeasts who live among the waste help the decaying process, and in turn, these beasts are a food source for hedgehogs and other animals.

All you need for a successful compost heap is waste, air and water!

See more information on making your own compost.

Make your own compost.jpg

Click on the image to enlarge

2. Check all purchases

Specifically labelled peat free compost is available but you may need to shop around to find it. Check labels for peat-based materials, and make sure that peat is not a component of potted house plants or indoor potting mix too.

Use alternatives - there are a number of peat-free alternatives; all providing different conditions for growing. The best thing to use will depend on what you want to grow and the existing soil you have in your garden. You may want to research and experiment with bark chippings, coir, wood fibre.


3. Be vocal

The more we ask for peat-free options, the more likely garden centres will be to stock it.

4. Peat based products are costing the Earth

Sign the petition to demand an end to the sale of peat compost    

5. Look for retailers that are committed to phasing out peat sales

The Wildlife Trusts recently undertook a survey of some major retailers: See some of the findings from this.

.Pledge to go peat free here 

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