Gardeners warned over peat useContinued use is damaging the environment

28 December 2006

 

A person holds a long-toothed fork.

Environmentalists have voiced concerns about the continued use of peat by amateur gardeners.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) said figures show gardeners have failed to cut their use of peat in recent years, despite campaigns by green groups and celebrity gardeners such as Monty Don and Alan Titchmarsh.

The group claims gardeners' buying habits are damaging wildlife-rich habitats in Europe and directly contributing to global warming.

Stuart Brooks, head of conservation at SWT, said peat continues to be the favoured growing medium among gardeners, in the face of environmental concerns.

He said: ‘After all our efforts it is extremely disappointing to see that peat use has remained stagnant, with a massive volume being used by the amateur gardening market.'

Peatland damage

The SWT claims that peat has been extracted in ‘astronomical’ amounts throughout Scotland and Europe since the 19th century.

It said a ‘worrying trend’ is the growth in the volumes of peat being sourced from Northern and Eastern Europe, where regulations are less stringent, leading to the destruction of the peatland homes of species unique to that habitat.

It added that peatlands are one of the planet's most important stores of carbon and once the peat is extracted they release carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas.

The body said figures in a report by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) show that the amount of peat used in horticulture has remained static over the past seven years, despite efforts to promote alternative soils. And the report found amateur gardeners account for two-thirds of all the peat used in the UK.

Compost bags

SWT, which manages a number of peatlands in Scotland, said the multi-purpose compost bags and grow-bags favoured by amateur gardeners appear to be at the root of the problem.

Campaigners are now urging the government to provide retailers with more access to peat alternatives to meet demand.

Mr Brooks added: ‘Every year thousands of tons of waste that could provide valuable compost is dumped into landfill. We are increasing recycling so let's get composting in the mix too and let peatlands and wildlife reap the benefit.’

Peat takes centuries to generate. SWT said that nowadays only 6 per cent of the peat that originally existed in Britain remains, with two-thirds of it in Scotland.