Why the UK needs a full peat compost ban

This article is more than 2 months old

Bags are still on sale despite a phasing out in England for amateur users

The Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland where the peat is up to 10 metres deep.
The Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland where the peat is up to 10 metres deep. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Growing plants, both in houses and gardens, has been hugely popular this year, helping to raise spirits during the coronavirus lockdowns. But gardeners and the horticulture industry often use peat compost from peatlands.

Peatlands hold vast amounts of carbon that was absorbed by living sphagnum moss. When the moss dies it does not fully decompose in the waterlogged ground, and healthy peatlands can lock away the carbon for thousands of years.

In the UK, peatlands store an estimated 3.2bn tonnes of carbon, far more than all the nation’s forests, which make a vital contribution to combatting the climate crisis.

This year was supposed to be the deadline for phasing out peat compost for amateur gardeners in England, but this target was only voluntary and bags are still on sale.

Despite this failure, the government is working on its next target: to phase out peat for commercial growers by 2030 – but again, it is only voluntary.

An outright ban on using peat across the UK is needed, not only for tackling climate change but also because peatlands supply more than a quarter of the nation’s drinking water, help prevent flooding by storing water and are rich in plant and wildlife.