The sale of horticultural peat will be banned in a bid to protect England’s precious peatlands

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All peat sales to home gardeners in England will be banned by 2024, the government announced today (Saturday August 27).

Peatlands are the UK’s largest carbon reservoir, yet only around 13% of our peatlands are in near-natural condition. This degradation has occurred due to drainage for agricultural purposes, overgrazing and burning, as well as extraction for use in growing media. Sack growing media accounts for 70% of peat sold in the UK and is often misused, for example as a soil amendment rather than a plant propagation medium. When this extraction takes place, the carbon stored inside the bog is released as carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change.

Peat extraction is also degrading the condition of the wider peatland landscape, damaging the habitats of some of our rarest wildlife such as the swallowtail butterfly, hen harrier and short-eared owl, and having a negative impact on peat’s ability to prevent flooding and filter water. A significant proportion of the UK’s water supply lands in or flows through peatlands.

The measures announced today will contribute to efforts to reach our ambitious goal of restoring 35,000 hectares of peatlands by 2025 and to broader efforts to reach net zero.

The announcement follows an extensive public consultation, which received more than 5,000 responses, with more than 95% in favor of government action to ban the retail sale of peat. The government has also pledged to continue to work closely with the professional horticulture sector to accelerate its transition to peat-free alternatives ahead of a ban for the professional horticulture sector, recognizing that the Professional horticulture faces additional technical hurdles that will take longer to overcome.

The government is also launching a new £5million fund to promote the use of peatlands for sustainable agriculture. It will support the adoption of paludiculture – the practice of farming on rewet peatlands – which will help to further preserve food security, produce alternatives to horticultural peat and reduce environmental impacts.

Environment Minister Richard Benyon said:

This government understands the importance of keeping peat healthy and in the ground, here and around the world – to sequester carbon, build resilience to drought and serve as a powerful natural solution to climate change.

The actions announced today mark a new chapter in the story of our iconic peatlands – safeguarding their long-term health and vitality as part of our commitments to reach Net Zero and implement our 25-year environmental plan.

Chairman of Natural England, Tony Juniper said:

Peatlands are valuable ecosystems that support beautiful and fascinating wildlife, shape the character of iconic landscapes, purify water and help reduce the risk of flooding. They are also our largest reservoirs of natural carbon, storing more than 580 million tonnes. This ban on the sale of peat-based compost and the work to phase out its use in other areas is an essential step towards protecting these valuable natural assets and enabling the recovery of degraded areas.

We are working with Defra and partners on the ground to restore thousands of hectares of peatland habitats, and have today awarded over £11million to restore lowland sites in South West England and upland sites in the north of England. These projects will have multiple benefits, sequestering carbon, helping some of our rarest wildlife to recover, reducing flood risk and making landscapes more resilient to the impacts of climate change such as drought and fire.

Professor Alistair Griffiths, Director of Science and Collections at the Royal Horticultural Society, said:

Peatlands are the world’s largest carbon reservoir on land, with great potential for long-term carbon storage, helping to reach net zero. They reduce flooding, when re-wet, reduce the risk of fire and provide valuable habitats for plants and animals. To address the climate and biodiversity crises, it is essential that we have a sustainable transition to alternative peat-free growing media. The RHS stopped selling bags of peat-based growing media in 2019 and will continue to work with Defra, industry and gardeners to accelerate the transition to peat-free.

As part of the second round of the Nature for Climate Fund’s peatland restoration grant, Natural England today awarded almost £11million to six projects to support restoration work on more than 7,000 hectares of peatland , adding to more than 8,000 hectares already financed in the first round.

The second round of the restoration grant supported a mix of lowland and upland restoration work, with the Somerset Peatland Partnership coming together to restore lowland sites in the South West of England, and partnerships Great North Bog and Moors for the Future restoring highland sites in the north of England. We will also announce the winners of our second round of Discovery Grants shortly.

New alternatives to horticultural peat, produced by malaria farming and others, offer England the opportunity to protect nature through the creation of green jobs, as well as to become one of the world leaders in the production and sale of sustainable growing media.

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