PEAT FREE COMPOST DEBATE

“Using peat in your garden is like burning old manuscripts from the British Library to light your barbecue” – those are the dramatic words used by Jon Bennie, senior lecturer in physical geography at the University of  Exeter. The debate about the need for gardeners to move over to using peat-free compost in their gardens has been going on for the past few years, but those powerful words really made me think I must make more of an effort. But what exactly is the background and science behind the debate to make it so important? We all know that if you have the time and space to make your own compost then that is the best way forward – and cheapest. But if you can’t do that you have to buy it in. Peat bogs are vital habitats for many rare and endangered plants and animals, and they also store carbon and help reduce the risk of flooding. According to the charity Plant Life, commercial extraction can remove more than 500 years’ of ‘growth’ in a single year. In line with global targets of the UN, the UK Government is pressing for significant reductions in the amount of peat used both commercially and in private gardens. Evergreen is one of the major gardening brands moving towards peat-free compost with an expanding range of substrates made with other ingredients. The latest development is that by March 2021 garden centres and DIY stores will display a “responsibility index” at the point of sale showing customers what is in the growing media they are buying. This will be followed in 2022 by similar labelling on compost packaging.

Last year, any progress achieved in getting gardeners to move to the more expensive peat-free brands was severely hampered by a general shortage of any compost at the start of the Covid pandemic lockdown. In addition coir production in India and Sri Lanka was badly hit by Covid and in the monsoon season you can’t dry it out after harvesting and there are also shipping issues. Also an infestation of Spruce beetle and pinewood nematodes in European wood earmarked as an alternative to peat has severely restricted that source. So it is a far from simple process to produce. The RSPB are lobbying for tax breaks for companies making peat-free compost. David Morris from RSPB says “Just stop buying peat products. Is it worth wrecking the planet just so you can grow some petunias”?

My thanks to Amateur Gardening which was my source for much of this article. It’s a great little weekly magazine with lots of advice and often free seeds!