UK retailers to be banned from selling peat in 2024
The UK Government has confirmed a ban on bagged compost and other retail products containing peat, set to come into force in 2024.
The ban has been announced today (27 August) by the Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), following a consultation which concluded in March this year.
The vast majority (95%) of the 5,000 respondents to the consultation said they would support a complete ban on the sale of peat-containing products by retailers. This support is doubtless due, in part, to the fact that nature NGOs have been campaigning vocally for phasing out of peat in horticulture in the UK. Additionally, some major retailers have already ended peat compost sales on a voluntary basis, including the Co-op and Dobbies Garden Centres. The Royal Horticultural Society has also taken this decision.
The ban covers the retailing of all peat and peat-containing products to amateur gardeners in England and Wales. There is currently an exemption for the professional horticulture sector, but Ministers will meet with representatives from this space later this year to fine-tune options for future action.
Globally, it is estimated that peatlands cover just 3% of the world’s surface area but hold almost 30% of the soil carbon present. Peatlands are considered an essential nature-based solution for mitigating climate change, therefore. They are also ecologically rich habitats and provide risk reduction for events such as wildfires and floods.
In the UK specifically, peatlands cover around 10% of the total land area. However, most are damaged, despite the fact that some hold protected status. Key drivers of peatland damage include changing weather patterns, land-use change for business purpose and peat extraction. Defra estimates that only 13% of the UK’s peatlands are in a near-natural state.
Several nature NGOs have celebrated Defra’s confirmation of the retail sales ban, but urged the Department to go further. For example, the Wildlife Trusts would like a dedicated ban on the extraction of peal and for the ban to be extended to all horticultural uses of peat – not just by retailers.
Additionally, the Trusts would like Ministers to commit to restoring all peat bogs damaged by peat removal by 2035. The Government has committed under the 25-Year Environment Plan to leave natural habitats in a better state for the next generation, but this commitment is not being fulfilled in many ways and many regions.
“It is fantastic to see tangible progress on this critical issue after decades of campaigning,” said the NGO’s peat policy officer Ailis Watt. “Using peat in gardens is bad news for our climate and leads to the destruction of beautiful wild places on which many of the UK’s rarest and most threatened species depend.
“The ban is expected to apply to around two-thirds of peat currently sold in England. What we need to see now is the Government taking action towards a total ban on peat extraction and its use in horticulture – only then can we put an end to the decline of peatlands both in the UK and further afield.”
The Soil Association has voiced similar concerns. Its policy officer Lucia Monje-Jeffs called Defra’s ban “just a first step”. She said: “It is important to highlight that the extraction of peat for the creation of compost is not the only issue the industry faces. Most peatland soils across the UK are severely degraded due to drainage and damaging farming practices. This is a huge problem in lowland peatlands, especially the Fens in Eastern England.
“While the Fens represent less than 4% of the country’s farmed landscape, they produce a considerable proportion of the country’s key crops, including a third of all our fresh vegetables.
“If the Government is serious about restoring our peatlands, we need a robust horticultural strategy, as well as a national land-use framework that helps support the development of horticulture across the country. This would enable the wider restoration of our peatlands without weakening the resilience of our local food systems.”
In recognition of the impact of farming on peatlands, Defra has also confirmed a new £5m fund that will be used to promote the use of peatlands for sustainable farming. The practice of farming in a certain way on rewetted peatland, the Department claims, will “produce alternatives to horticultural peat and reduce environmental impacts” associated with traditional agriculture.
A little over a year ago, Defra published the England Peat Action Plan. Alongside a commitment to end the sale of peat products, the Plan reiterated the Government’s commitment to improve 35,000 hectares of peatlands by 2025.
It provided an updated map of peatland habitats in England and their current levels of degradation. This will be used to inform where funding should be allocated and what shape key projects should take. Some green groups have argued that this was too little, too late.
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