Peat made up less than 30% of compost sold to gardeners in 2021 – report

Peat made up less than 30% of compost sold to gardeners in 2021 – report

Environmental activists have repeatedly called for an immediate ban on its use by home gardeners and the industry at large (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Archive)

Environmental activists have repeatedly called for an immediate ban on its use by home gardeners and the industry at large (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Archive)

Peat accounted for less than 30% of the compost sold to gardeners in the UK in 2021, a horticultural industry report shows.

The latest annual figures show that retail use of peat – in bags of compost sold to customers in garden centers and supermarkets – has increased from 35.5% of all compost and soil improvers in 2020 to 29.8% in 2021 has declined.

2021 numbers were also below 2019 levels – after the 2020 lockdown led to a surge in gardening activity during the pandemic.

About 1.02 million cubic meters of peat were sold as compost last year, compared to 1.31 million in 2019, when it accounted for 41.5% of total growing medium sales, and compared to 1.52 million in 2020.

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Wood-based materials, mainly fiber derived from wood chips, overtook peat and accounted for 30% of the total, according to the annual Growing Substrate Monitor led by the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) and Growing Media Association.

In the professional horticultural sector, where it is used for growing bedding and nursery plants, fruit, herbs, lettuce and vegetable seedlings, peat fell from 62.3% to 51.7% of the total growing media.

The horticultural industry said the figures showed it was making dramatic progress in phasing out peat voluntarily, and called on the government to support efforts to find alternatives to the product, rather than implementing its proposed ban on peat compost sales by 2024.

However, environmentalists have repeatedly called for an immediate ban on its use by home gardeners and the entire industry to protect the climate and nature.

Peatlands are a major carbon sink – the largest in the UK – and peat extraction releases carbon emissions, damages important wildlife habitats and reduces the landscape’s ability to absorb water and contain flooding.

The report showed that the largest source of peat came from the Republic of Ireland, where new regulations severely restrict peat extraction, followed by the UK and a smaller proportion from other EU countries.

James Barnes, Chair of the HTA, said: “These results show that our industry is making dramatic and effective progress in voluntarily reducing peat use and that industry-led initiatives are already making great strides.

In order for us to accelerate this progress, we urgently need government to focus its energies on removing the barriers to alternatives, rather than legislating on a goal the industry is on track to achieve

James Barnes, Horticultural Professions Association

“We are committed to removing peat from retail compost as early as 2025 and we continue to work with the government to find pragmatic solutions for the transition to peat-free products.

“However, in order for us to accelerate this progress, we urgently need government to focus its energies on removing the barriers to alternatives, rather than legislating on a goal that the industry is on track to achieve.”

Figures show that in 2021 a total of around 1.69 million cubic meters of peat was used in the retail and professional sectors, including exports, accounting for 35.5% of growing media.

That was down from 2.29 million cubic meters in 2020, which accounted for 41%, and 2.1 million cubic meters in 2019, when it accounted for 47.6% of growing media.

Ali Morse, Water Policy Manager at The Wildlife Trusts, said: “Peat use has increased over the course of 2020 – whilst it is positive that the percentage of peat used in horticulture has fallen over the past year, we do need to see peat use use up a lot adjust faster.

“Over a million cubic meters were sold to growers last year.

“Peatlands are the largest carbon sinks we have on land, but far too many of these valuable sites are being dug up for growing crops.

“It is crucial that the government supports the horticultural industry in ending the extraction and use of peat as quickly as possible. There is simply no time to lose.”

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