British bogs get protected status at the expense of peat extractors

Britain's biggest and most threatened lowland bogs are to about to be protected under a European directive, signalling a possible end to commercial exploitation and problems for horticultural companies.

On 24 August Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott announced a massively increased list of wildlife sites designated as ‘Special Areas of Conservation’ (SAC) under the European Habitats Directive, including the main peatlands suffering

peat extraction in Britain, which are situated in South Yorkshire and Cumbria. This means that any future extraction will have to be formally reviewed by local planning authorities and, if deemed necessary, halted.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) says that as a result, the peatlands at Thorne Moor, Hatfield Moor and Wedholme Flow in Cumbria will be saved “from being destroyed” by US horticulturalist, The Scotts Company, after a decade-long campaign involving local people and wildlife organisations.

At present Hatfield Moor is a key site for Scott’s compost-making operations with the greatest abundance of peat remaining. Hatfield Moor and Bolton Fell had never been proposed as SACs before and previously only parts of Thorne Moor and Wedholme Flow were put forward for protected status. FoE says that because up to 60% of the UK’s peat comes from these four sites, the new proposal “will send shock waves through the peat and horticultural industries.” The organisation says that garden centres and nurseries will need to find massive quantities of peat-free alternatives, which may give a much-needed boost to large-scale composting and recycling projects.

“This is a good day for local people, for wildlife and for our countryside, and a bad day for big business,” said FoE spokesperson, Craig Bennett. “We have always argued that Wedholme Flow, Thorne and Hatfield Moors are sites of international importance. We hope that peat extraction on these sites will be halted in the near future – Scotts must not be allowed to accelerate its destructive activity just as we finally see the prospect of these sites being saved for future generations,”he continued.

A spokesperson for The Scotts Company said that the company is currently reviewing the details of the proposal and would work to “ensure a mutually satisfactory agreement”.

The list of SACs was increased after the UK Government was told by the European Commission that its original list of 128 was inadequate and must be expanded. Now there are 339 candidate SACs, many of which have also been increased in size including: the North and South Pennine Moors, the Humber and Severn estuaries, Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common in London and the River Tweed.

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