Government test-case decision to refuse continued peat extraction

Friday 9th November 2012

Round leaved sundew cpt Vicky NallRound leaved sundew cpt Vicky Nall

Today The Wildlife Trusts celebrate the decision to reject an application for further peat extraction at Chat Moss near Salford in Lancashire.*

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, has refused permission to commercial peat extractors to continue devastating Manchester and Merseyside’s vital peatlands for another 15 years.

We are delighted that the Government has taken this decision

This is an important national test case decision.  It is consistent with the Government's commitment to phase out the extraction of peat for horticultural purposes (set out in its Natural Environment White Paper in 2011.) 

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscapes at The Wildlife Trusts, said:

“We are delighted that the Government has taken this decision.  This is an important test case that sends a signal to the horticulture industry that the planning system will intervene to restrict this damaging activity.  Credit must go to Lancashire Wildlife Trust and the local community which have campaigned tirelessly against this application.  We are keen for this decision to speed up the process to phase out the use of peat in horticulture.

“We know that the compost industry is working hard to produce quality alternatives to peat, and that effort must be sustained and supported, but we need to move more quickly.  Chat Moss is just one example; damage to peat bogs continues elsewhere in the UK and across Europe.  We now need the Government's Sustainable Growing Media Task Force to act with renewed vigour and to make faster progress towards complete phase out of peat for horticultural use."

We now need the Government's Sustainable Growing Media Task Force to act with renewed vigour and to make faster progress towards complete phase out of peat for horticultural use.

Only one per cent of England’s lowland raised bog habitat remains.  This wild and precious part of our natural heritage takes thousands of years to form. It is home to a fantastic range of wild plants and animals – from the round-leaved sundew, an insectivorous plant, to golden plover, curlew, and uncommon species such as the Large Heath butterfly, White-faced Dragonfly or Darter, Downy Emerald dragonfly and the Bog Bush-cricket, as well as a large number of moths.

The demand from UK gardeners and growers means that peat bogs are being destroyed across the UK and other parts of the world.  Extraction to satisfy UK demand occurs in Ireland, the Baltic states and Finland (some 38 per cent of peat sold here comes from the UK, with 56 per cent coming from Ireland and six per cent from the Baltic states.)  At the last count, (2005) UK Gardeners got through more than 48 million standard (70-litre) bags of multi-purpose compost annually.

The Government-backed Sustainable Growing Media Task Force has proposed a voluntary approach to ending the use of peat in horticulture.  Although the industry is working on alternatives, progress is slow.  Greater urgency is needed if we are to restore and manage our peatlands effectively. 

The Wildlife Trusts have long campaigned against peat extraction, which can devastate habitat for many rare and specialised species, and which releases huge amounts of harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The Wildlife Trusts and others promote peat-free gardening and peat-free compost alternatives.  The support of gardeners is key to phasing out peat extraction.  Many may not yet be aware of improvements in peat-free products even though last year Which? Magazine found that one or the two best buys for container plant composts was 100% peat-free and it was also the cheapest compost tested.  It is clear that non peat-based composts can now perform better than peat.

Paul Wilkinson added:

“The Wildlife Trusts believe that extracting peat for horticulture is an unsustainable practice, both because of its effects on wildlife and the negative impact on climate change.  Peat bogs provide a habitat for many species, such as the peatland specialist, sundew. Peat soils also store a huge amount of carbon.  They are one of our best assets in fighting climate change.  On the flip side, drained and over-exploited peat soils give off huge amounts of carbon.  In addition to their role in climate change, peatlands provide other benefits such as grazing land and improved water quality.”

The new National Planning Policy Framework should have been key for the Inspector.  The NPPF states that planning authorities should:

Specifically identify and include policies for extraction of mineral resource of local and national importance in their area, but should not identify new sites or extensions to existing sites for peat extraction and: not grant planning permission for peat extraction from new or extended sites;

*Chat Moss is a vast area of peatland stretching more than 30 miles from Salford to Liverpool.  Extractors have removed more than 60 per cent of the peat over the past century.  Lancashire Wildlife Trust has bought three areas of Chat Moss – Astley Moss, Cadishead Moss and Little Woolden Moss – and is proving that these areas can be restored if peat extraction is not allowed to go too far.

Chat Moss Section (including public inquiry blog) http://www.lancswt.org.uk/Our-Work/conservation/mosslands/save-chat-moss

Overview of Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s mosslands work, and links to mossland sites under restoration http://www.lancswt.org.uk/Our-Work/conservation/mosslands

Tagged with: Living Landscapes