Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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Phase-out for peat-based compost by 2020 announced

Phase-out for peat-based compost by 2020 announced

News Release issued by the COI News Distribution Service on 08 March 2010

A call for the phase-out of peat in compost material was announced today by Environment Secretary Hilary Benn as part of the latest Act on CO2 campaign.

The phase out would mean that gardening centres and DIY stores would cease to sell peat-based composts for the amateur gardening market within ten years and switch to peat-free alternatives instead.

The Act on CO2 campaign launched today, targets amateur gardeners who use the majority of the peat (around 70%) that is used in horticulture. The campaign focuses on raising awareness of the environmental impacts associated with peat and promoting a switch to peat-free alternatives in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and protect the valuable biodiversity and wildlife of lowland raised bogs (from which peat is extracted for horticulture use).

Defra has been working with the horticultural trade, DIY chains and garden centres to provide information for gardeners on peat-free products and lower peat alternatives at point of sale.

Peat extraction for use in garden compost causes significant damage to the environment by harming valuable natural habitats and by releasing carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere that contributes to climate change. Around half a million tonnes of carbon dioxide is emitted each year as a result of peat extraction from UK sites for horticultural use, and this doesn’t take account of the fact that we import over 50% of our peat from overseas.

Most gardeners are not even aware that many composts contain peat and that peat-free alternatives can produce equally good results in their gardens. In a recent survey carried out by the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA), two-thirds of garden owners were unaware of the environmental issues surrounding peat and its extraction for use in compost and growbags.

Launching the Act on CO2 campaign at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, which has been peat-free since 1992, the Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn announced the plan to work with industry to achieve a complete phase out of peat from the amateur gardener market by 2020.

Hilary Benn said:

"The horticultural industry has made progress in reducing peat use over recent years, but given the urgency of reducing our emissions we need to go much further. I know that the proposed 2020 phase-out target for the amateur market will be challenging, but we know this is what we need to do. Peat soils are extremely valuable carbon stores as well as being home to wildlife and important to archaeology, and we should be doing everything we can to protect them.

Amateur gardeners are by far the biggest users of peat, using over 2 million cubic metres each year. Our research shows us that gardeners often don’t realise the damage that peat extraction causes or that the compost they're buying contains peat. That is why we're launching this campaign today to raise awareness of the damage using peat-based composts can cause and help us as gardeners to choose alternative peat-free compost products."

The campaign is supported by celebrity gardener Diarmuid Gavin, who said:

"Consumers' concern about what they can personally do to help protect the environment is at a record high. However, people often struggle to find easy ways to make a big difference. Using peat-free products in the home and garden is one of the simplest, yet most effective ways that people can make a positive environmental impact and reduce their carbon footprint.

"For most uses in the garden (e.g. pots, growbags, hanging baskets, digging into or tidying up flowerbeds) peat-free alternatives are just as good as peat-based compost, and they don’t lead to the loss of our valuable peat bogs. We hope that this campaign will prove to gardeners that you can have blooming good results - not just with traditional growing media but also with environmental friendly peat-free products."

The new Soil Strategy, Safeguarding our Soils, that was published on 24 September 2009 includes a number of specific commitments on peat, and highlights the Government’s plans to develop a 'future framework for action' on peat in 2010, to explore options to strengthen the protection of both upland and lowland peat soils. In developing this, Defra will be working with the industry on proposals to further reduce the horticultural use of peat within both the amateur and professional market, and we plan to publish a formal consultation document in the summer.

Notes to Editors

For more information on Defra’s Act on CO2 Peat-Free campaign and to view the video of Diarmuid Gavin explaining the benefits of using peat-free compost when planting see link - www.direct.gov.uk/buyingcompost

2. The UK’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory records emissions of 431,000 tonnes a year for peat extraction from UK sites. However, as over 50% of the peat that we use in the UK is imported (mainly from the Republic of Ireland and the Baltics), this is not a true reflection of total emissions from our use of peat for horticulture.

3. Gardens, gardeners and the environment, October 2007. The data draws upon the results of the HTA’s latest consumer research. Over the period from 1 to 7 June 2007, a representative sample of 1014 GB adults were interviewed at home on behalf of the HTA by Ipsos Mori as part of their Capibus Omnibus survey.

Significant progress has been made over the past few years to reduce the horticultural use of peat, in response to the current Government target for 90% of the total market for growing media and soil conditioners to be peat free by the end of 2010. However, only 54% of the total market is peat free.

There are a range of peat free alternatives currently on the market using materials such as bark, green compost, wood waste and wood fibre and coir (derived from coconut husks). Recycled (peat-based) mushroom compost is also sometimes used. Many of the lower peat formulations that are on the market will use a proportion of these materials in their products.

For most garden uses, these alternatives are just as good as peat based composts and they don’t lead to the loss of valuable peat bogs. A recent Which? report found that peat free products out-perform their peat-based equivalents for a number of uses.

It is recognised that for some very specialist uses and plants – for example, carnivorous plants that are native to peat bogs and some ericaceous plants that are native to moorlands - some alternatives may not yet work as well as peat in all circumstances. To reduce your carbon footprint, it’s important that you look for peat free compost for all of your main garden uses.

The Act on CO2 Peat Free campaign, with its important messages for our protecting our natural environment, is part of the world-wide UN International Year of Biodiversity 2010 celebrations. The diversity of life on earth is crucial for human well-being and now is the time to act to preserve it. For information on International Year of Biodiversity events, initiatives and exhibitions across the UK visit www.biodiversityislife.net

Contacts:

Defra Press Office
Phone: 020 7238 6600
NDS.DEFRA@coi.gsi.gov.uk

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