Call for garden peat levy

Monday 21st February 2011

The Wildlife Trusts are backing a call for the Government to introduce a levy on peat composts bought from garden centres in the budget (Wed 23 March).

Peat extraction for horticulture has extensively damaged lowland raised bog habitats in the UK. Peat bogs are home to a range of butterflies, dragonflies, birds and unique insect-eating plants, but peat forms very slowly at a rate of just one centimetre every ten years. The majority of peat sold in the UK is now imported from Ireland and Baltic countries where peat extraction is also responsible for destroying wildlife habitats.

Peat bogs are also one of the biggest stores of greenhouse gases. The extraction and use of peat releases carbon dioxide, adding to global climate change. The market for peat-based compost in the UK is responsible for 630,000 tonnes of carbon emissions a year – the equivalent of an extra 300,000 cars on our roads.

According to UK Government figures, the cost to society of peat through carbon emissions alone is £11 per cubic metre – around £32million a year from UK peat consumption. This cost is not reflected in the price of peat, however a levy of around £1 on a regular sized bag of peat-based compost would help address this.

Government attempts to phase out peat over the past ten years have failed and Defra is currently consulting over its new voluntary initiative with a target of phasing out horticultural peat over the next two decades.

More than 630, 000 tonnes of CO2 are emitted each year from horticultural peat use in the UK and we have lost 94% of our lowland raised bog habitat.

A report published this week - backed by The Wildlife Trusts - says this is not strong or quick enough and to make a real difference a levy needs to be introduced to encourage consumers to use peat-free alternatives. The call has been backed by other groups including Plantlife, Buglife, the Irish Peatland Conservation Council and Butterfly Conservation as well as compost suppliers Vital Earth. Money raised through the levy could also provide vital funding for the restoration of damaged peat bogs across the UK.

Helen Perkins, The Wildlife Trusts’ Water for Wildlife Manager, said:

“Many gardeners are already aware of the need to switch to non-peat composts and support our initiatives to protect and restore peatland habitats, but the facts provide a stark reminder of why this is so important: more than 630, 000 tonnes of CO2 are emitted each ear from horticultural peat use in the UK and we have lost 94% of our lowland raised bog habitat.

“Whilst we take action to restore these important habitats, the damage caused by peat extraction continues. The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside is opposing applications by William Sinclair to continue peat extraction at Chat Moss. A few yards away from the Sinclair site the Trust has restored damaged bogs to fantastic wildlife sites.

“As the peak gardening season is almost upon us we would like to call on gardeners to support the levy proposal and, in the meantime, to remember that the peat in bags of garden compost was once home for some of Europe’s most important and rare species, including beautiful plants like sundew and butterwort and insects like the bog bush cricket and large heath butterfly. Peat is so slow to form that it is considered a non renewable resource. It is completely unsustainable to continue this damaging and unnecessary practice.”

The Government’s consultation on phasing out peat-based products ends on Friday 11 March 2011.

Find out how to go peat-free on The Wildlife Trusts’ and Royal Horticultural Society’s website Wild About Gardens,

Story by RSWT