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To protect our peatlands, use peat-free compost

We are a nation of gardeners and using compost is an integral part of this pastime. But for many unsuspecting gardeners, who tend to their own gardens with nurture and care, this activity has been having terrible consequences for the natural environment, with peat hiding in potted plants and growing beds up and down the country. We need to protect our precious peatlands and the best place for us to start is for the conservatives to deliver on their longstanding commitment to remove peat and peat-containing products from the retail sector.

CEN Cllr Joe Porter

Twelve per cent of the UK’s land area is covered by peatland, and we are blessed with a variety of types, from raised bogs to our famous fens. One particularly important peatland that we possess is the uninspiringly named, yet globally rare, ‘blanket bog’. The UK is home to 13 per cent of the world’s total blanket bog. Despite their international importance and significance for Britain’s green and pleasant land, only 20 per cent of our peatlands are currently in a near-natural state.

As conservatives, we know it is our duty to protect our natural inheritance for future generations to experience and enjoy. But 87 per cent of England’s peatlands are degraded, damaged, and dried out meaning when it comes to passing on our precious peatlands to the next generation, we have to first restore them.

It is not just their rarity that makes them worth protecting and restoring. When functioning correctly, peatlands can be our largest natural carbon store, more than the forests of the UK, France, and Germany combined. They are, therefore, a vital resource for reaching net zero with one hectare of restored blanket bog having the capacity to avoid around 19 tonnes of carbon loss per year. To give credit where it is due, successive Conservative governments have committed millions of pounds to help restore our precious peatlands. Conservative environmentalism is after all about action, not vague platitudes.

But this money and effort will be in vain if we do not also reduce the demand for peat, as well as protecting peatland on a landscape scale. One major source of demand is the gardening and horticulture sector which uses peat as a growing medium for plants. The retail sector currently accounts for 70 per cent of peat sold in the UK.

As a gardener who has their own allotment and as a local councillor, I have certainly been playing my part to cut out peat. As Cabinet Member for Climate Change and Biodiversity, I led the most recent charge at Staffordshire Moorlands District Council to remove peat from our land by working with our service providers to ensure that our parks and green spaces use peat-free compost. Thanks to the council’s efforts over a decade, our maintenance partner Alliance Environmental Services does not use peat directly in compost and aims to source nursery stock from peat-free providers. Committing to conduct a council-wide peat audit is a simple step that any council can commit to, whether as leaders or as opposition. We have also worked in close partnership with Staffordshire Wildlife Trust to restore our local peatlands in the Peak District as part of our local Plan for Nature.

But going peat-free is often easier said than done, with peat products often not labelled as such. In no small part thanks to awareness raised by big names in gardening like Monty Don, consumers are more aware of the need to go peat-free, but labelling is often limited to bags of compost. However, peat is regularly the secret ingredient in other gardening products, like potted house plants and trays of bedding plants. As such, information campaigns will only ever go so far in changing consumer purchasing behaviour.

All gardeners should be able to buy from a garden centre without fear that their purchase will cause environmental harm. Peatlands are vitally important for our nature and carbon objectives but the ease with which consumers can buy peat-containing products is counterproductive at best when so much is being spent on restoring our peatland landscapes and when so many alternatives are now available for amateur gardeners to buy.

Although the likes of B&Q have committed to going peat-free, and should be applauded for doing so, the industry as a whole has been slow to respond, despite being given a decade to act voluntarily. That’s why I was so pleased when the Conservatives committed to banning peat in the retail horticulture sector.

However, a few years on, the government has not yet delivered the necessary legislation to enact this ban.

With the countdown to the next General Election underway, there is only limited time to deliver on our outstanding commitments before we must turn all of our attention to the doorstep. Fortunately, Theresa Villiers MP has provided the means for us to deliver on this commitment with her upcoming 10 Minute Rule Bill. I am joining conservative environmentalists from across the country in showing my support for her efforts by signing the Conservative Environment Network’s letter to the Prime Minister and I encourage all Conservative Home readers to do the same.

Only five per cent of consumers oppose this ban for the amateur gardening sector. Many consumers are in favour of removing this product from the market and making peat-free the default option for all gardeners, protecting the natural environment in the process. Green-fingered consumers have given the green light, and Theresa Villiers is creating the legislative time; all that remains is for the government to deliver on its long-standing commitment, for peat’s sake.

First published by ConservativeHome. CEN Cllr Joe Porter (Staffordshire Moorlands District Council) is a member of the Conservative Environment Network.


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