Degraded peatland in Yorkshire

Leave peat undisturbed – in bogs, not bags!

New analysis by The Wildlife Trusts has calculated the shocking impacts of extracting peat for use in horticulture.

  • Policy failure to stop peat extraction has caused up to 31 million tonnes of COto be released since 1990
  • Peat extracted for horticulture in 2020 alone could release up to 880,000 tonnes of CO– equivalent in emissions to driving to the moon and back 4,600 times
  • Waiting another two years until 2024 to ban peat use could add more than 1.5 million tonnes of COto our atmosphere – roughly equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of more than 214,000 UK residents

The analysis estimates that across the UK as much as 31 million tonnes of COcould have been released into the atmosphere since 1990, as a direct result of using peat in gardening, and its use by professional growers of fruit, vegetables, and plants.

The campaign to stop peat extraction took off in the 1990s but only now are the UK and Welsh Governments conducting a public consultation on ending the use of peat in the retail sector in England and Wales by 2024.

Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust is joining The Wildlife Trusts nationally to call for an immediate ban on the sale and extraction of peat for horticulture, and we are asking the public to support us in a direct response to Defra’s current consultation on this issue.

Despite thirty years of campaigning against extraction and increased public outcry, peat continues to be sold in vast quantities for amateur and professional horticultural use, with huge consequences for nature and climate.

Industry progress towards peat-free alternatives has been slow and inconsistent, and between 2018-19 peat consumption in the UK declined by just 2.3%, before rapidly increasing by 9% as lockdown drove more people to buy compost for gardening.

On average, annual UK peat sales would fill 29,000 large shipping containers and could release up to 850,000 tonnes of CO2 .

In 2020 alone, nearly 900,000 cubic metres of peat were extracted from UK soils, with a further 1.4 million cubic metres of peat imported from Ireland and the rest of Europe. A total of just over 2.29 million cubic metres of peat were dug up to be sold in the UK market in 2020, with a small quantity also being exported to other countries.

If peat is left undisturbed – in bogs, not bags – this quantity of peat could have stored approximately 238,000 tonnes of carbon for millennia to come. However, once peatland habitats are disturbed for extraction, stored carbon becomes carbon dioxide (CO2) and is lost to the atmosphere forever, contributing directly to climate change. 

Ian Cracknell, Advocacy Officer at Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust said:

“Peatlands are hugely important nature-rich places, home to many rare plants, birds and insects. Sadly our peatlands are disappearing, as the peat they contain is extracted and packed up in bags for use as compost. As well as destroying these vital habitats for endangered wildlife, this process also releases carbon into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change.

“But we can save our precious peatlands by keeping peat in the ground. You can help by supporting our call for an immediate ban on the sale and extraction of peat for gardening products. Let’s leave peat undisturbed – in bogs, not bags!”

Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust are urging the public to respond to the Government consultation to back our call for an immediate ban on all peat products. The consultation is open until Friday 18th March 2022.

Does your local garden centre stock peat-free compost? If so please let us know by email at takeaction@wildsheffield.com – we are creating a list of local stockists who are offering peat-free products. Click here to take our peat free pledge and find out more.