Environmental groups and Monty Don call for end of peat compost

© Marcus Wehrle

Environmental groups have come together to write a letter to the Environment Secretary calling for a ban on the use of peat in compost by 2025. Celebrity gardener, broadcaster and writer Monty Don has also signed, describing peat in compost as “environmental vandalism”. The call comes as the volume of peat sold in the UK in the last year tops two million cubic metres.

Environmental charities have been joined by broadcaster and writer Monty Don in writing an open letter to the government calling for a ban on peat in garden compost in the next five years after new figures showed it would take decades to phase out at the current rate1.

The National Trust, Friends of the Earth, the RSPB, The Royal Horticultural Society, Plantlife, CPRE, the countryside charity, The Wildlife Trusts, Garden Organic, and Wildlife and Countryside Link say that unless a legal ban is introduced then some of the world’s most precious and important ecosystems could be lost forever, and the government’s climate and nature aims will be undermined.

Monty Don has added his voice to the plight, describing the continued use of peat in compost as “environmental vandalism”.  

Healthy peatlands act as carbon sinks, trapping in carbon to help mitigate the impacts of climate change. They also help to control flooding and encourage vegetation that can provide homes for an array of wildlife. But when they are damaged, such as mining for compost, they lose these abilities and emit their carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

New figures released in recent weeks show the rate of decrease in the retail and professional horticulture sectors is  “small and slow”. 

They also show that a voluntary target to end its use in the amateur sector by 2020 has been completely missed, and that 2030 target to end its use in the professional sector is also on course to be missed.

In the retail sector, peat is down from 53.3 per cent of material in 2015 to 44.6 per cent last year. In the professional sector peat is down from 63.9 per cent of material in 2015 to 62.9 per cent last year2

The majority of the two million cubic metres sold or used in the UK in 2019 was imported from the Republic of Ireland and other EU countries, with the remainder coming from peatlands in the UK. 

In their open letter to Environment Secretary George Eustice today, the group is calling for a total ban on peat in compost - on its extraction within the UK, its import, export, and sale - in both the retail and professional sectors, by 2025 at the latest. 

The charities say “allowing peat use to continue rewards failure and undermines the Prime Minister’s commitment … to lead the way on climate change and to tackle the loss of biodiversity.”

The letter adds: “We cannot lose another ten years to these approaches while we continue to import peat from habitats on the continent, contributing to the UK’s overseas environmental footprint - which your Government has committed to tackling.”

There is no garden, however beautiful, that justifies the scale of environmental damage or contribution to climate change that peat use causes.

The end of peat in compost could be achieved through the forthcoming England Peat Strategy by - either using it to introduce a ban, or to consult on how this should be done as quickly as possible. The long-awaited Strategy was first mentioned in the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan almost three years ago, and peat has continued to be extracted and turned into compost ever since then.

Monty Don, gardener and presenter, said: 

“There is no garden, however beautiful, that justifies the scale of environmental damage or  contribution to climate change that peat use causes. The extraction of peat for horticultural use  is an act of environmental vandalism. It causes irreparable environmental damage. The fact that it also significantly contributes to the release of CO2 and aggravates the effects of climate change adds salt to a grievous wound. Ten years ago the government announced the intention to halt all retail peat by 2020 and all horticultural peat use by 2030. However the retail sector and horticultural trade have fallen grievously short of those modest targets. The time has come for the government and parliament to impose a total ban on all peat production and sales. It is time for all the various elements of the horticultural trade to come together to provide and promote the existing alternative growing media for both amateur and professional use.” 

Nikki Williams, Director of Campaigning & Policy at The Wildlife Trusts said:

“When the voluntary targets were set nearly a decade ago we didn’t appreciate the scale of the pressures facing our climate and the impact that our activities are having on wildlife at home and abroad. With support, the horticultural sector can become one which champions nature’s recovery, by quickly phasing out peat use and giving gardeners confidence that the products they are taking home to nurture their own green spaces are not destroying wild habitat elsewhere. Peat has for too long been presented as a plentiful and perfect product in which to grow plants, but if gardeners could see the destruction that peat extraction has caused to habitats around the globe, they would be truly horrified.”  

Ben McCarthy, Head of Nature Conservation and Restoration Ecology for the National Trust, said: 

“The Government is proudly publicising the fact that it is hosting the UN climate conference next year, and has ambitions to be a champion of nature on the world stage. The Prime Minister is promising new funding for nature and warning of the dire consequences of biodiversity loss. Yet the Government is allowing the import of peat compost to continue. This is causing destruction to peatlands on our doorstep and in other countries too. For years the National Trust has shown that it’s possible to go peat-free in our garden centres, nurseries and gardens.”

“As the Government seeks to do more to address our ‘environmental footprint’ abroad by tackling illegal logging, banning the use of peat compost by 2025 would make as much sense as ending the use of illegal timber. The Government promised to look at this issue in its 25 Year Environment Plan - we are already three years into that Plan and the clock is ticking. The forthcoming England Peat Strategy must set out a clear path to the end of peat compost in the UK by 2025 at the latest.”