Peat bogs are a vital carbon sink and 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. The majority of peat sold in the UK is imported from Ireland and Baltic countries where peat extraction is also responsible for destroying wildlife habitats.
Conservation groups and gardening suppliers have called on the Government to introduce a levy on peat products bought from garden centres in the March budget.
According to UK Government figures, the cost to society of peat through carbon emissions alone is £11 per cubic metre – around £32million a year in the UK. 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.
However a report published by the RSPB this week, says this is not strong enough or quick enough and to make a real difference a levy also needs to be introduced to encourage consumers to use peat-free alternatives. The call has been backed by other groups including The Wildlife Trusts, 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.
RSPB conservation director Mark Avery said: “It really is incredible that a product as hugely damaging to our environment as peat is still being widely consumed in the UK. Despite attempts to tackle this issue in the 1990s, little has been achieved aside from exporting damaging peat extraction overseas.
“A financial incentive is vital if we are to change the behaviour of consumers and encourage the horticultural industry to invest in alternatives. Rigorous studies have shown that good peat free composts work just as well – Kew Gardens is just one notable example of a peat free garden which is thriving.
“We have got rid of lead in our petrol, CFCs in our aerosols and DDT in our countryside – so why is this dinosaur industry still lumbering along causing untold damage to our environment?”
Steve Harper, Managing Director of compost suppliers Vital Earth, said: “The gardening industry should welcome a peat levy – it’s one way towards a more level playing field for peat and the environmentally better, but more expensive to produce, alternatives. Without this, it’s hard for the industry to invest in the change the Government would like to see happen to end the widespread use of peat.”
Catherine O’Connell, Chief Executive of the Irish Peatland Conservation Council, said: “Our bogs need your levy. Irish peat bogs are being torn apart to supply British gardeners with their bags of peat compost – we’re now your major peat source. A retail levy will help consumers to choose composts not on price, but on their relative merits.”
Lowland raised peat bogs are home to a range of butterflies, dragonflies, birds and unique insect eating plants, but it forms very slowly at a rate of just one centimetre every ten years. Peat bogs are also one of the biggest stores of greenhouse gases, in the UK peat bogs hold almost four times as much carbon as forests. The extraction and use of peat releases carbon dioxide, adding to global climate change.
The Government’s consultation on phasing out peat based products ends on 11 March 2011.
For more information, or to support the campaign, visit the RSPB website at http://www.rspb.org.uk/supporting/campaigns/campaignwithus/current/peat.aspx to find out how to get involved.