Easter survey reveals the need for faster action on peat-free gardening

Thursday 13th April 2017

Bell Crag Flow - The Border Mires, photo Duncan Hutt

As the region’s gardeners prepare for spring, environmental groups are calling on industry and governments to take urgent determined action to protect the UK’s remaining peatlands.

In March this year, 238 volunteers responded to a survey by Friends of the Earth, Plantlife, RSPB and the 47 Wildlife Trusts, (including Northumberland Wildlife Trust) which revealed a lack of real choice for consumers looking for peat-free composts at garden centres and other outlets, with only a third of respondents finding peat-free compost clearly available and most respondents reporting a lack of product choice, price incentive or clear labelling to encourage consumers to buy peat-free.

Based on the survey’s findings, environmental Industry figures show that peat still accounts for more than half of the total material used in bagged composts and across the UK garden industry, more than 2 million m3 of peat was used in 2015.

Peatland is home to a variety of scarce and unique wildlife, and provides vital services for people.

Peat bogs store vast amounts of carbon, which must kept in the ground to avoid contributing to climate change. A loss of only 5% of UK peatland carbon would be equal to the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. These bogs also act like a sponge, soaking up rainwater, and can help to reduce flood risk. Water filtered through healthy peat bogs is of a higher quality than water from degraded bogs, making it cheaper to treat as drinking water.

In this region, Northumberland Wildlife Trust has worked tirelessly to protect the Region’s peatlands especially the Border Mires in West Northumberland. This peat, which blankets vast swathes of the Northumberland uplands is a vital and special resource as it is a wonderful place for people to walk and enjoy but it is also home to a very special range of amazing and internationally important plants and animals.

The Border Mires are a massive store of carbon and they capture and hold large volumes of water - in fact, the drinking water supply for many millions of people in this area comes from these peat landscapes - if we look after them and help them to recover, they will help us respond to climate change and save money for society in the long term.

Duncan Hutt, Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Head of Living Landscapes -Dynamic Druridge said: “Gardeners can make a real difference by not buying peat-based products but the garden trade is failing in its duty to phase out peat and give its customers real choice to go peat-free.

“Peatlands are the UK's rainforest, locking up over 400,000 tonnes of carbon per year, slowing floodwaters, filtering drinking water, and providing a unique landscape, habitat and home for wildlife. We need to act faster and together everywhere - landowners and Government - to turn things round and put all our peatlands back into good health."