A peatland being dug for peat to be sold in compost. You can help save places like this.
By buying peat-free compost you can help to protect precious peatland habitats for wildlife and people.
What is peat? And where does it come from?
Peat is made up of a mix of partly decomposed plant materials, unique to natural areas called peatlands. In the UK peatlands are some of our wildest places, home to a range of special plants and animals.
In the UK, we have two main types of peatland habitats (where peat comes from)
1. Lowland raised bog
2. Blanket bog
Both habitats are unusual as they are entirely fed by rainwater and snowmelt, rather than ground water. They tend to be found in more hilly and mountainous – wild - areas.
Peat is a very spongy material, so walking on it feels like you’re walking on jelly! It wobbles and shakes beneath your feet! Peat takes thousands of years to form as the plant material decays very slowly in wet conditions and gradually becomes compressed into peat - millimetre by millimetre.
Peatlands are tough places to live but wildlife still thrives here including colourful sphagnum mosses (pictued above) insect-eating plants, and plants with names that Roald Dahl would have been pleased with such as butterwort (pictured right) and bog myrtle. In addition, the beautiful large heath butterfly and a range of dragonfly species including the black darter dragonfly thrive in the wet conditions. Peatlands also provide important nesting and feeding grounds for many wading birds such as dunlin and greenshank.
Why we need peatlands
Peatlands provide benefits for people too; the UK’s peatlands store around 4,500 million tonnes of atmospheric carbon (that’s 100 times more than all UK vegetation including trees). (http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-5547) And 70% of our drinking water comes from peatland river catchments.
Peatlands under threat
Sadly our peatlands have been suffering for many years and currently 80% of the UK's peatland are in poor condition (like the one pictured right in the Pennines). A major cause of damage is drainage where channels are cut into the peat to move rainwater off the land more quickly in favour of ‘improving’ the bogs for sheep grazing, grouse shooting or plantations of trees by drying them out. Damage can also be caused by burning, air pollution, trampling and/or grazing by sheep itself. And in some lowland areas, peat sadly continues to be cut or dug out for sale in compost in garden centres or for commercial horticulture.
Peat has been a major ingredient of compost sold for gardening for many years. This peat is dug out of wild places, damaging some of our last remaining peatlands here in the UK and overseas in places like eastern Europe. This process also releases carbon into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change.
But peat-free compost is available – if everyone used it our peatlands would safe from this tyupe of damaging practice. It’s often not the first compost you see, or necessarily the cheapest, but if you ask most stores should stock it. By buying peat free you’re helping our precious peatlands and sending a message to manufacturers that people want peat free products. Both are really important.
What YOU can do to help
• Only buy peat-free compost for your garden. You can check the packaging for this information
• If you can’t find any peat free compost, just ask! Consumer demand is important and it sends a message to retailers and manufacturers that people want peat free products.
• Ensure that any plants you buy are not grown in peat soil (by checking their label)
• Make your own compost. Not only will you be protecting peatlands but you'll also be helping wildlife in your garden too! Find out how to do this below.