Peat Free April

I’m supporting Peat Free April – a campaign by garden writers, nature writers, and gardeners who want to ban the use of peat in horticulture and protect the planet’s peatlands and peat bogs.

We really need your help to push the government to protect peat bogs and peatlands, so please sign this petition to ask the government to ban the use of peat in horticulture.

Please also sign this petition calling on the Welsh Senedd to ban the use of peat in gardening and horticulture.

This is another petition that calls on the UK government to ban the burning of peat for fuel.

What are peatlands?

If you’re not acquainted with these special wetlands, the word ‘peat bog’ might not conjure up much excitement; however peatlands and peat bogs are places we should all be getting excited about!

Peatlands and peat bogs are wetland habitats where mosses, sedges, and carnivorous plants thrive.  These biodiverse ecosystems are home to birds, dragonflies, butterflies, insects, invertebrates and other wildlife – many of which are rare or unusual and are unable to thrive away from the peatlands.

Peat is made from sphagnum moss, which slowly forms peat as it decomposes.  A new generation of moss grows in amongst the dying mosses and eventually new layers of peat form.  This isn’t a quick process – the formation of peat takes an extraordinarily long time.  If sphagnum moss enjoys optimum moisture and light levels, combined with the ideal temperatures for growth, then up to a millimetre of peat can form in a year.  However, there are many years where the ideal growing conditions, or the specific mosses that are needed for peat formation aren’t present for sufficient time and no new peat is formed.

Peat bogs don’t just benefit wildlife; these unique environments offer us valuable benefits and protection.  Peatlands are naturally absorbent; they hold onto moisture and slow the flow of rainwater to protect us from flooding.  Healthy peatlands filter water, producing high quality water that’s low in pollutants and requires very little treatment.  Peatlands are vital to the health of us and our planet; peatlands are significant in the fight against climate change.  The true value of peatlands and peat bogs is unmeasurable.

Drosera rotundifolia, also known as the round-leaved sundew, pictured at Thursley Common National Nature Reserve.

Why do we need peatlands?

Peatlands cover just 3% of our planet’s surface, yet these valuable areas store half a trillion tonnes of carbon; which is more than all the world’s forests combined.  It’s estimated that 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon are sequestered in our UK peatlands alone.

Unfortunately, the way humans have mis-managed and abused our peatlands over hundreds of years is destroying peatlands’ ability to sequester carbon.  Draining and cutting peatlands causes immense damage with catastrophic repercussions.  A study in 2019 by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology has shown that instead of locking up carbon and working to mitigate climate change, UK peatlands are now a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions – and this is entirely due to human activity and mis-management.

This is Thursley National Nature Reserve, a site of special scientific interest, near Godalming, in Surrey.

How can we help protect our peatlands?

Our peatlands are magical places that are home to carnivorous plants, and wildlife.  Ripping apart these valuable ecosystems to unearth this precious store of carbon and use peat in the garden is reckless and irresponsible.

1. Use only peat-free compost

It may surprise some gardeners, but many plants actually grow far better in a peat-free compost than a peat-based compost; so, by going peat-free you could actually improve your growing!

The best way you can help protect our peatlands and peat bogs is to use peat-free composts in your gardens and allotments.  Check out the results of my Compost Trials to discover top quality peat-free composts.  Please spread the peat-free message to your friends and family!

2. Check compost labels carefully – search for the facts – don’t be fooled by companies’ marketing!

It may sound rather silly to say this, but when you’re ordering or buying compost, please look for the words ‘Peat Free’ or ‘100% Peat Free’ on the compost bag.  If you can’t see the words ‘Peat Free’ on the pack, then please assume that the compost contains peat.

Companies selling peat-based composts use all sorts of  marketing techniques to make their products seem ‘green’, ‘sustainable’ or ‘eco friendly’ – but if the compost isn’t explicitly listed as peat-free, then it certainly contains peat – which means it’s really bad for the planet, and entirely unsustainable.

There is no legislation around peat-content labelling for compost, which means that even when companies do include data on the peat content of their products, it’s usually misleading or confusing.  I’ve included two egregious examples below:

This small label on the back of a Scotts Miracle-Gro compost bag is titled “Our commitment to sustainability”, but when you look closely, it indicates that the compost contains anywhere between 40% and 70% peat. Using peat will not enhance our environment or make the world more beautiful. Using peat-based composts is not sustainable.
The ‘Peat Content’ label on the back of Westland compost can easily be misunderstood. The ‘percentage of peat’ part of the chart is green in colour; most gardeners who glance at this would assume it means the product is sustainable, environmentally friendly or ‘green’. However, on closer inspection, the graphic is actually indicating that the compost is 80-90% peat – which is extremely bad for the environment.

Sadly some garden centres still don’t sell a single peat-free compost, which I find utterly heartbreaking, deeply disturbing and incredibly alarming.  Currently, only Travis Perkins and the Co-Op have pledged to remove all peat-based composts from their shops – but we need the other big supermarkets, garden centres, and other retailers to follow suit and go peat-free.

When you visit the garden centre, ask the company why they are still selling peat-based composts.  Please only buy peat-free compost.  If everyone did this, companies would quickly change their policies and they would stop stocking peat.  Contacting companies via email to let them know that you would like them to be more environmentally friendly and stock a wider range of peat-free composts could help change things.  For Peat’s Sake have a letter template on their website, which makes it quick and easy to email or write to garden centres and nurseries, sending an email is free and will only take up a few moments of your time, but it could have a really positive affect.

3. Buy plants grown in peat-free growing medias

If you’re buying plants from a nursery or garden centre, please ask whether those plants are grown in peat-free compost, and if they aren’t, take your business elsewhere.

Nic Wilson from Dogwood Days, has curated a useful Peat Free Nurseries List on her blog – here’s a link.

4. Consider your purchases and look out for ‘hidden peat’

Our peatlands have been damaged by man for centuries, so the precious peat in our peat bogs has been unnecessarily utilised for many different functions.  You might be surprised at how often you make a purchase that has a connection to peat and damages our peatlands.  Does your florist use flowers grown in peat-free growing medias?  Look out for peat-free florists, including: PlantPassion – a peat-free Flower Farm in Surrey and Common Farm Flowers in Somerset.

Avoid potted herbs in the supermarket, as these are usually grown in peat-based composts.  If you’re growing herbs, you’ll find they grow much better in a peat-free compost or planted directly in your garden soil.

Mushrooms are usually started in peat-based casings but they will grow just as well in peat-free growing media.  When buying mushrooms, take your business to peat-free mushroom growers, like Maesyffin Mushrooms or Garryhinch Wood Exotic Mushrooms – both companies are organic mushroom growers that use grain and wood-chip to grow their mushrooms.  Why not grow your own mushrooms, using a peat-free mushroom growing kit?

5. Make your own compost

Home-made compost is a wonderful resource, but sadly many gardeners feel that their garden is too small for a compost heap.  However, I feel that a composting area is an essential part of any garden.  Garden Organic offer plenty of helpful information about composting on their website.

6. Don’t forget your soil!

It’s lovely to have a few plants growing in containers but gardeners have gone container mad!  Container gardening requires far more water, resources, and energy than is needed to grow the same plants in the ground.

7. Write to your MP

Write to your local MP and ask them to do everything in their power to protect peatlands and bring about a speedy end to the use of peat in horticulture.  Tell your MP that more funds need to be invested in restoring our peatlands.  Find your local MP, by clicking here.  Tell your MP about the level of concern that environmental groups have on the government’s inactivity and slow response to stop the use of peat for horticulture.  Send your MP a link to the joint statement on peat.

8. Sign the petition to force the government to act

In 2011, the Government set voluntary targets to end the sale of peat-based compost for domestic use by 2020.  This has been an abject failure – composts that are comprised of 100% peat are still widely available and many garden centres still sell only peat-based composts.  A recent survey by the Wildlife Trusts of leading garden retailers highlights how much an enforced ban is needed.

If you would like to protect our peatlands and the rare, beautiful, and fascinating plants and wildlife that can only survive in these unique habitats, please sign this petition that calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to place a legal ban on the extraction of peat, peat imports, exports, and sales in order to protect peatlands both in Scotland and worldwide.  Please share with your friends and family, and post a link to the petition on all your social media channels.  Thank you.

To put pressure on the government to introduce proper legislation to protect our peat bogs and peatlands, please sign this petition to ask the government to ban the use of peat in horticulture and ask your friends and family to sign it too.  Please share this petition on social media – if we can get to 10,000 signatures and force a Commons debate, then we stand a chance of finally introducing a date for a ban on the sale of peat-based compost.  You can read our letter to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and find out more about this campaign on the Peat Free April website.

Please sign the Wildlife Trusts’ petition to ban the sale of peat in shops.

Please also sign this petition to call on the UK government to ban the practice of burning peat for fuel.

I passionately believe that the only place for peat is in a peat bog or peatland.  Please sign this petition and share it with your friends, families, and neighbours.  We need to send a firm and clear message to the government that we want them to urgently protect our planet’s peat bogs.  It’s vital that the politicians understand the urgency of this issue and take action now.

Please also sign this petition calling on the Welsh Senedd to ban the use of peat in gardening and horticulture.

Find out more about peatlands in these articles.

To see my Compost Trials and discover top quality peat-free growing mediums, please click here.

Other articles that may interest you…………

For gardening advice for April, please click here.

For gardening advice for May, please click here.

My primroses are looking amazing at the moment!  If you’re interested in these plants, here’s some information on growing primroses.

For tips on sustainable gardening, please click here.

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