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UK peatland contains more carbon than the forests of the UK, France and Germany combined

 

This makes our peatlands a vital resource for reaching net zero by 2050. Peatlands are our largest natural terrestrial carbon store, storing approximately 3,200 million tonnes of carbon.

The conservation and restoration of our peatlands is an intergenerational mission as it takes approximately 10 years for only one centimetre of peat to form. This means that the peatlands we see today were formed thousands of years ago. We need to protect this vital habitat so future generations can enjoy wildlife, such as the threatened hen harrier.

 

Peatland health is tied to water quality and security. Approximately 70% of UK drinking water comes from our upland areas, which are dominated by peatlands. Peatland vegetation plays a vital role in slowing the flow of rainwater, which can help to protect nearby communities from flooding.

 

UK peat is a precious resource and habitat which we need to protect and restore to help us tackle climate change, protect our wildlife, and boost our water quality and security.

87% of England’s peatlands are degraded, damaged and dried out, emitting tonnes of carbon dioxide each year

Undoubtedly, we need to restore our degraded peatlands and the government is investing over £50 million in peat restoration. However, it is a tragedy that extraction of peat continues whilst we try to restore this precious habitat that grows at a rate of just 1mm a year. We must tackle the demand for peat, as well as protecting it on a landscape scale.

The retail sector accounts for 70% of peat sold in the UK

In 2011, the government supported a voluntary phase-out of peat and peat-containing products, with a commitment to legislate if it proved to be ineffective. Flash forward to today and the retail sector still accounts for 70% of peat sold in the UK.

 

Industry leader B&Q became peat-free in 2023, Kew Gardens is peat-free, and, at 98%, the RHS is almost peat-free, demonstrating that plants can continue to thrive without extractive, damaging peat. However, industry uptake on the whole, both for the retail and professional market, has been slow, despite having 13 years to adapt. 

 

In August 2022, Defra recognised progress was too slow and announced its commitment to ban the sale of peat and peat-containing products in the retail horticultural sector by 2024. This was along with an intention to phase out the use of peat in the professional horticulture sector with a date of 2026 - allowing for certain technical exemptions – with a complete ban from 2030.

 

Gardeners, new and experienced, should be able to buy from a garden centre without fear that their purchase will cause environmental harm elsewhere, particularly as products containing peat are often not clearly labelled, and suitable, similarly-priced alternatives are available.

The government has the opportunity to deliver on its commitments on peat

 

With a general election expected later this year, the necessary legislation to deliver this commitment has not yet arrived. Conservative MP Theresa Villiers is hoping to fill this gap by introducing a bill to provide the legislative vehicle for the government to deliver on its commitment and remove a key driver of the demand for the exploitation of peatland.​

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