For Peat’s Sake. The Peat Ban

Peat is to be banned for home growers next year. Is it justified and does it make sense? Having looked at the evidence, I don’t believe it does.

Peat harvesting from the Somerset Levels in 1905

First of all, finding unbiased information isn’t easy on this subject. When the government’s own web site press release states “Sale of horticultural peat to be banned in move to protect England’s precious peatlands” the emotive wording tells me this is just a biased piece selling the decision already made.

A couple of web sites I feel to be objective and unbiased on the subject are:

UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, an internationally respected independent, not-for-profit research institute. I highly recommend reading this pdf: Peatlands Factsheet

International Peatland Society, an organisation of individual, corporate and institutional members dedicated to the responsible management and Wise Use of peatlands and peat.

Currently the IPS has 1,575 individual, corporate, student, institutional and NGO members from 37 countries. This includes 16 National Committees and three Commissions plus numerous Expert Groups with different activities related to peat and peatlands, mires, bogs, fens and tropical peat swamp forest.

About Peat

Peat is derived from plants that partially decompose in waterlogged conditions. The anaerobic conditions prevent the plant material from fully breaking down. Peat requires boggy areas like the fens to form.

Peat is a renewable resource but it takes a long time to renew. Generally peatlands grow in depth by just a millimetre a year. The depth of peat varies greatly; in some areas the peat is quite shallow, perhaps just 40cm deep and in other areas as deep as 11 metres. The average depth across the UK is 6 metres.

3% of land globally are peatlands but 12% of the UK land area – around 3 million hectares – is peatland.

Peat and Peatlands are Important.

Peatlands contain unique flora and fauna, supporting biodiversity. They mitigate high rainfall events, providing floodplain storage and slowing the release and flow of water from the uplands. Peatlands can capture CO2 and retain it, helping to slow climate change but overall they actually contribute to CO2 emissions as drained peatlands release their store of carbon.

Condition of Peatland

According to the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology: 22% of our peatland in the UK is in near-natural condition and 41% somewhat affected by human activity.

16% of our peatlands is now covered by trees, mostly drained for conifer plantations. 15% is now used for agriculture.

Industrial peat extraction for horticultural use occupies 0.15% of UK peatland, mostly on lowland raised bogs

Now that 0.15%, less than 1% of the land drained for growing mono-culture conifer forestry, is mainly taken from lowland raised bogs. It is not taken from sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs).

When the peat is extracted in the UK, just the top two metres are taken. Then the area is replanted so that in a few years it recovers and can start accumulating again. In terms of biodiversity and appearance, it’s damaged but not permanently.

The EU myth.

I’ve had a couple of people say this peat ban is something to do with the EU. Well, apart from the fact we left the EU, most of the EU continues to harvest and use peat. Incidentally, Ireland produces horticultural peat which I assume will be available in Northern Ireland.

Alternatives to Peat

The main alternative to peat based compost is coir based. The majority of gardeners are finding the alternatives to be difficult to use, poor substitutes. See my post on Problems with Coir Compost and the comments.

But what about the carbon?

I’ve not found a properly researched comparison of the carbon footprint of coir versus peat but I think it’s obvious that peat harvesting in and near to the UK is going to produce a lot less carbon than processing coir and shipping it across the world. Incidentally, coir production uses a lot of fresh water in countries where that is less available than the UK.

My Conclusion

Obviously peatlands are important and valuable but the effect of the horticultural industry is tiny. Not only is it small in proportion, it’s minimal in long term effects with the land being restored.

Why punish the gardeners?

OK, I’m getting political here. I believe this ban is a sop to an ill-informed green lobby to gain approval and votes by the government. It’s a greenwash fig-leaf. And it’s insane that I will be forced to buy compost that is harder to use based on material imported from halfway around the world. My favourite, excellent quality peat-based compost is currently imported from Ireland.

I wonder if gardeners in Northern Ireland will be able to buy peat-based composts?

If peat production is so terrible then why not re-flood the areas drained for conifers?

Anyway, that’s my conclusion and I’m not alone in this view.

The video below from gardener and broadcaster Bunny Guinness states the arguments well although she’s arguing for delay in imposing the ban. I don’t agree we should delay the ban, we should scrap it altogether.

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary, Rants and Raves
49 comments on “For Peat’s Sake. The Peat Ban
  1. Linda Ashton says:

    I live in the Highlands of Scotland but would still wish to use peat provided it is taken in a way that can allow it to continue to refurbish with sensible planting when some peat has been removed ! We should allow the natural Peatlands to regenerate !

  2. Graham says:

    The problem at the moment is that the peat free composts cost more than the compost containing peat , surely this ought to be the other way around . I don’t think that in the future that there will enough compost available for the amateur gardener, this will eventually force people to make there own composts which could affect the seed germination process . This wasn’t a rant about keeping peat based products as I have been peat free for a number of years now.

  3. Allan says:

    I have not used peat for many years and my pleasure from growing on an allotment has grown and not diminished due to the lack of peat.
    We should do whatever we can however small to offset the effects of climate change and not using peat is one of them.
    While your research is commendable I will continue to be guided by experts in the environment/climate/habitat loss that I trust rather. I hope your opinions do not sway too many people to start to use more peat.

  4. John Boulton says:

    Common sense at last.

  5. Clive Fenn says:

    The fact that the ban is currently only on non-commercial growers seems to make no sense. What proportion of the peat market is this in comparison with commercial growers?

  6. Janet Young says:

    I’ve just been attempting to buy my favourite compost but it is no longer available; my seeds usually germinate at around 95% but this year it has been much lower around 50 – 75% at the best. Just at a time when gardening has been becoming more popular it has become less easy to manage.

  7. Robert Cripps says:

    How can I become a commercial so I can avoid the ban

    • John Harrison says:

      Hi Robert
      Set up a trading name (Robert’s Plants), plant seeds in pots, sell to people (ebay?), keep records and accounts. You’re a business! Oh, tell HMRC although I don’t think you have to pay tax on profits under £1000.
      That’s just my guess – you’d need to check the actual act and the definitions.

  8. Marie says:

    If every gardener supported the peat ban refusing to buy any product grown in peat, the commercial growers would have to reconsider their growing medium. There are people rewetting peat areas such as on the moors in Yorkshire. If everyone said I’m not giving up peat because other people aren’t then progress wouldn’t be made. Humans have caused climate change and if we can help to improve our environment in any way possible we should try it! Not for our sake but for all those around the world whose land is now not as productive as it was before and also for the sake of our grandchildren – why should they struggle to sort out a mess not of their making!

  9. Stephanie Curtis says:

    I’ve not used peat for many years now, preferring to make my own sowing, potting on and propagating composts from the soil conditioner which I can buy from our local council dump. I sieve it to exclude coarse material, then add soil, sand (if necessary for smaller seeds), perlite, some blood, fish and bone meal (for potting on) and this seems to work well enough for me. We pick up bags of our local ‘GreenGrow’ when we visit the dump and it’s good value at £2 a sack. Good as a soil conditioner too, and it seems to help with weeding our local clay soil.

    I would be interested to know if/how other people go down a DIY route.

    • Ian Pryce says:

      I do, but my mix also includes about one third peat. I use composted stable manure, grit, water gel and granular fertilizer. It works well as a potting mix, but as a seed sowing medium it gives me dreadful germination, even when it is seived.
      This year for the first time I had to buy grown plants from a local garden centre to top up. I get very little variety choice and the plants are grown in peat so iits lose all round.

  10. Dick Barton says:

    Your article is factual and accurate. I am afraid that the UK has been brainwashed by TV presenters and other media to think we must not use peat. I see this as yet another example of the erosion of personal rights to satisfy green zealots. No Peat, no Gas boilers, no petrol vehicles etc. In every case we are told to use an inferior produce. The heat pump being a prime example of the authoritarian dictat.
    I think the other UK ‘nations’ are following England’s lead. Ireland too in time. Of course, the Dutch will not ban it. They know what works and can see a commercail advan tage as their plants will thrive while UK plants wither away. Which would you buy?
    I think the legislation will be circumvented. It is about the retail sale of peat. I guess there is no way they can stop you digging up peat, if the landowner permits. There are many ways to exchange goods.
    No doubt there will be peat smuggled in from non compliant countries. The mind boggles at the ineptitude of the authorities!!

  11. John Hollands says:

    I fully agree with John and Bunny. My friends and I have spent this year trialing ‘Peat-Free’ composts with very unsatisfactory results. The best one we found – not great but just about usable – was double the price of our Clover peat based compost which comes from County Tyrone NI. The Ban isn’t going to apply to NI as it’s a ‘Delegated’ decision and they aren’t banning it. So our gardening friends in NI will still be able to buy the peat based composts. One thing that wasn’t mentioned is will there be enough peat-free to go round? Especially when the ‘Trade’ can’t use peat. Is it now too late? Is there anything we can do?

  12. Tim Inman says:

    Your common sense view is shared by me! I am in North America, and here, we use Canadian peat. My understanding is that Canadian peat is by far and away more available than anywhere else. Further, the Canadian peat folks have been making an extra effort to show their good harvesting/replanting practices. I will continue to use it as long as possible. Why? One: it works! Two: The argument is that it isn’t really renewable. But shipping cocoa coir all over the world takes absolutely NON-renewable energy to get it here – and it doesn’t work as well. So…. Thanks for your input.

    • John Harrison says:

      Hi Tim
      According to Bunny the Canadian peat is growing overall in excess to the amount extracted. I haven’t confirmed that but everything she said that I could check was accurate.

  13. Lou Yates says:

    I understand the frustration around the peat ban as viable alternatives have yet to measure up as workable substitute. It is very worrying however that as growers and gardeners, the high level of risk posed by the continued extraction of peat by all corporate interests is allowed to continue. Climate change is accelerating at a truly alarming rate and environmental scientists have been warning us of the risks for decades now. We are dangerously close to the point of no return when being able to grow things in peat compost won’t matter because drought and extreme weather conditions will ruin our crops. At some point we all need to wake up and be part of a new movement for sustainability. It is simply unsustainable to continue to extract peat at the rate currently seen; whether for the amateur or the big industrial operations. We need to make our own compost. Surely making our own from free garden waste is a no brainer. Our grandparents did it. We can too.

  14. Ian Pryce says:

    Common sense at last as others have noticed. I too have dreadful trouble getting good results from peat free products. But I have a question for John,

    What can we practically do about it? Is it time for a campaign based on the science put forward in this article?

    I for one wouldn’t know where to start.

    Ian

  15. Derek Wade says:

    Odd. The comments appear at odds with the bbc news site on the subject. This gives domestic use in UK as 75% of total.In any case case, I would rather not look back always to what was but to move forward to what is better (for the world), even if a bit. Compost made from forestry waste is far better than coir and the good versions of it are as good as peat.

    • John Harrison says:

      Derek, Can you tell us some specific brands using forestry waste?

      • Jane Godden says:

        Melcourt Sylvagrow. It’s main ingredients is forestry waste. I have used this for about six years and get very good germination of seeds. It runs out of nutrients fast, Melcourt recommend feeding from three to four weeks. I use a combination of Chase SM3 and homemade comfrey and nettle “tea”. I previously battled with various coir based composts and had to make my own compost mix using home made compost leaf mould and vermiculite. I haven’t used peat for over twenty years.

    • Les Glaskin says:

      Don’t believe a word of what the BBC say they are full of Cxxp

  16. Gordon Steele says:

    I can’t understand your logic.
    You agree peatlands support biodiversity. Help prevent flooding and retain water. Retain carbon. And are not remotely renewable in anyone’s lifetime.

    You seem to conclude coir is the only alternative. And because it’s more difficult to use and comes from far away you conclude the UK should continue to extract or import peat.

    The UK has binding international treaties to reduce carbon and protect biodiversity. And anyone with any concern for the future of the planet and future generations should be supportive of any efforts to meet those treaties. And we should be pleased that the UK is taking a lead on this.

    • John Harrison says:

      It’s not that complex, so I’m surprised you can’t follow what I’m saying.
      I don’t ‘conclude coir is the only alternative’ – the manufacturers of compost have gone down that route.
      ‘and comes from far away’ – the production uses masses of scarce fresh water in poor countries and shipping produces carbon.
      My point is we actually need to be greener and not just virtue signal. Horticultural peat is flyspeck in the scheme of things. It doesn’t affect biodiversity when it’s carefully harvested and made good after. I suspect the carbon balance is negligible as well when the alternatives and what it’s used for are factored in.
      If we say we’re only going to use things that are quickly renewable then get used to life without transport, housing, information technology.

  17. Karen Hathaway says:

    You seem to be suggesting the the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology supports your pro peat views, which just isn’t born out by their Factsheet. They are very clear that peat bogs must be protected. Calling something renewable that only grows at 10cm a century is ridiculous. What they do point out is that there are greater threats to peatland which surely is an arguement to widen the ban not scrap it. Alternative composts based entirely on coir are fairly hopeless but faced with a ban all manufactures are rapidly developing alternatives, many of which seem very effective & are getting cheaper as production increases. I’d be interested to know whether TV gardener’s supporting peat compost have any financial interest in this? My advice would be to make your own compost from green & kitchen waste. Free, green & very renewable

    • John Harrison says:

      OK Karen, I cite UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology as providing factual information. The conclusions I draw from it are mine. Nowhere do I imply my views are their views.
      The only ‘TV Gardener’ with the guts to say what she really feels is Bunny Guinness – most of the rest are too scared of damaging their income by not going with the greenwash flow. Since the compost manufacturers have to follow the law, makes no difference to them supporting a celeb gardener to promote their products who favours the ban or not.
      So, address the arguments rather than attack the proponents of views you don’t share by misstating what they said and traducing their reputation would be a better approach.

      • Karen Hathaway says:

        What you actually said was “Peat is to be banned for home growers next year. Is it justified and does it make sense? Having looked at the evidence, I don’t believe it does.” You then clearly imply that you have reached this decision after looking at very specific evidence, namely the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.
        Regarding the manufacture of coir, actually this is a waste product of growing coconuts, the husks of which are soaked in ‘brackish water’. Again, I’m afraid you are manipulating the facts to fit your very biased opinion & then presenting this as objective fact. You criticize me for asking whether a certain TV gardener has a financial interest in peat based compost & then state “most of the rest are too scared of damaging their income by not going with the greenwash flow”. You are by the way extremely rude & dismissive to anyone who doesn’t agree with your very one sided views!

        • John Harrison says:

          “You then clearly imply that you have reached this decision after looking at very specific evidence, namely the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.” Yes, an independent source. I looked for the facts and drew my own conclusion.
          I know where coir comes from and the processing required.
          Then you just get personal and distort what was said, I assume due to inability to robustly discuss a subject without descending into insult and claiming your opinions are facts. A sad reflection on the level of debate in this country.

  18. Sally Hardisty says:

    Peat has only been available commercially, since the 1970’s. Prior to this, people made their own potting compost.

  19. Ian Pitman says:

    At last someone has stated the truth. Latvia provides 95% of peat to the EU. Latvia is a bed of peat. The Latvian peat industry have a very informative web site (sorry I do not have the link) but it concurs with what you write. Brain dead politicians have been misled by people who have a misconceived agenda

  20. John Harrison says:

    Hi Sally
    Gardeners have been using peat as a horticultural material for many decades. The use of peat in gardening and horticulture became more prevalent in the mid-20th century as its beneficial properties were recognized.

    The commercial extraction of peat for horticultural purposes began in the 1940s and 1950s, primarily in countries with extensive peatland resources, such as Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Latvia is a major peat producer and exporter. These regions became major producers and suppliers of peat-based products to gardeners and the horticultural industry worldwide.

    It’s only since 2020 that Ireland has stopped burning peat to generate electricity.

    Prior to this peat was mainly used for fuel and

  21. Alan says:

    At my allotments, it’s all the older folk who disagree with the ban, so at least the future looks hopeful

  22. stuart martin galey says:

    As always an interesting set of conundrums where there are often more answers and opinions than questions. I have used Westland non peat and found it to be as good as my own home made seedling and potting compost and is not coir.
    For those with accusations of greenwashing stats I believe we are about to witness the effects of passing climate tipping points and with disastrous consequences for humans everywhere.
    My feeling is that even the smallest actions, if taken by enough people, CAN make a difference. Consumer choice is fine if you understand that it may often affect the wider picture in ways you do not know. We need to act now, everywhere and everyhow if our children are to have a habitable world. This is one of those actions.

    • John Harrison says:

      Stuart, I’m afraid you’re right about tipping points. That’s why we need to take effective large scale action yesterday. Cheesing off home growers isn’t really doing much to help. Providing insulation, public transport have massive effects.

  23. Michael says:

    I wonder how long before we are told there is a water shortage because we are now using more water ( another resource we are short off) resources in the soil because no peat makes the soil dry

  24. mike wilding says:

    Well done John Harrison..a well researched and well written article on peat from you. I can’t stand these politicians who do things purely for political vote catching.

  25. Ann Burke says:

    well done John and all.Its good it is being discussed. I do not like Peat free compost

  26. Paul says:

    Hi John,

    Could we possibly have some advice on how to make our own potting compost.

    Could we use leaf mould, mixed with compost, fertiliser and perlite?

    Any advice on this would be greatly appreciated.

    • John Harrison says:

      I’ll look up some recipes in older gardening books and see how they did it without peat. I’ve been putting off the evil day as coir has not been good for me.

  27. Rowland Wells says:

    you can keep your peat free for me I’m not a peat free person we are still using peat based its much cheaper than peat free and it grows plants much better although we have started to add a little sharp sand to the mix

    and as far as the environment argument is concerned our local council picked up 3 tonnes of litter on one stretch of a busy main road litter the other day threw out of cars so much for looking after the environment it will be a sad day when peat based is banned for the home gardener

    If peat free was up to my peat based standard and at a more competitive price in line with my peat based I’m buying I mite be persuaded to buy it but its just not cutting the mustard as far as I’M Concerned so peat free not for me

  28. Jeremy Cuss says:

    I would also be very interested homemade alternatives to peat compost. I currently compost all my green and uncooked food waste at home and on the allotment. I can sieve this and add other components, but it may need to be dried somewhat to start with. Your research and advice would certainly be welcome.

  29. Peter Fawcett says:

    Complete peat ban not expected until 2030 ‘at the earliest’.

    Great news – please pass on.

  30. ALBERT HAYDEN says:

    As usual these idiots that want to ban everything in sight have turned there gaze to peat products there are good at banning things but either do not replace the banned item or replace with a far inferior product that is more expensive and is much harder to work with and use and there arguments are rather unfounded as most of the peat used in the UK is from either Ireland or Russia it’s about time somebody lobbied to reverse this stupid ban

  31. John Harrison says:

    You’re right there, Albert. Since farming and food distribution produce greenhouse gas, the obvious answer is to stop feeding the idiots and kill two birds with one stone.

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