Peat sales to gardeners in England and Wales to be banned by 2024

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The sale of peat to gardeners in England and Wales is to be banned by 2024 under plans published by the government on Saturday. Ministers said they also aimed to end peat use in the professional horticulture sector by 2028.

The government set a voluntary target in 2011 for compost retailers to end sales of peat by 2020. But peat use fell by only 25% from 2011-2019 and increased by 9% in 2020 as Covid lockdowns boosted gardening as a hobby.

Peat is the UK’s largest carbon store, trapping as much as tropical rainforests per hectare, but is routinely dug up for horticulture. This releases carbon dioxide, adding to the climate crisis. Peatlands are also vital habitats for rare species of wildlife, and help filter water and reduce flooding.

However, the government consultation also contains measures that fall short of an outright ban, instead including an additional charge on the price of peat compost, or the provision of information on the environmental impact of peat at the point of sale. The government said it did not intend to ban the sale of plants in pots that contained peat and that its plans would not affect current licences for peat extraction.

The environment minister Rebecca Pow said: “We are committed to bring forward the ban [on the sale of peat to gardeners] by the end of this parliament – that’s an absolute commitment.”

“Our peatlands are an incredibly valuable natural resource,” she said. “There are now more sustainable and good quality peat-free alternatives available than at any other time, so I am confident now is the right time to make the shift permanent.” Sustainable alternatives to peat include compost made from wood fibre and bark, wool, coir, and other plants.

Pow said the weaker measures were included because “in a consultation, it is best to be fully informed with as much evidence and data as we can have, and some people in the industry are still pressing for other potential routes”.

Related: Just 124 people own most of England’s deep peat – its largest carbon store

Craig Bennett, of the Wildlife Trusts, said: “The government has been dithering over this crucial issue for decades and the consultation on the use of peat by gardeners is long overdue. But it’s a damp squib.

“It refers to the damaging effects of peat extraction, but this activity is still allowed in England, which is absurd. We need an immediate ban on the use of peat by individuals and the wider horticulture industry and an immediate end to extracting peat.”

Prof Dave Goulson, from the University of Sussex, said: “We need to stop kicking the can down the road. The government acknowledges we are in a climate emergency, but isn’t even prepared to stop depletion of a vital carbon store for needless ornamental use in our gardens. We need to stop peat use now.” Pow said “historic” licences allowing the extraction of peat were being reviewed.

Alan Titchmarsh, Kate Bradbury and James Wong are among the high-profile gardeners who have backed a ban, and Monty Don has called peat in compost “environmental vandalism”.

Peat may become harder to buy in the UK in any case because most is imported from bogs in Ireland, where the state-backed company Bord na Móna ended all peat extraction in 2020, although its reserves are still being sold. Some big retailers of peat have implemented their own bans, including Dobbies and the Co-op in 2021, and B&Q by 2023.

About 70% of peat is sold to gardeners and 30% is used by professional growers. The government estimates a ban on both uses would cut CO2 emissions by 4m tonnes in the next two decades.

The government also announced £4m to boost 10 peat restoration projects across England, including in the Fens, Dorset, Somerset and Yorkshire. Almost 90% of peatland in England is in a degraded state and it emits 10m tonnes of CO2 a year. In May, ministers announced a £50m plan to restore 35,000 hectares of peatland by 2025, about 1% of the UK’s total. “It’s a really positive start,” said Pow, saying that these investments leveraged other funds focused on water management and increasing biodiversity.

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