Seabrook On ... Peat proposals are a cause for concern

April Fool's Day is an appropriate time to consider the Defra proposal to phase out peat in professional horticulture by 2030 and in the amateur market by 2020.

The proposal will disadvantage English horticulture and gardening. Note it is only English - some say Ireland, Scotland and Wales may well not implement this foolishness.

A Dutchman with 40 years' experience in European horticulture, speaking to British Protected Ornamentals Association delegates at Meadow Croft Garden Centre last month, spelt it out when he said: "If the UK phases out peat, its crops will be second-rate and cost more".

Other EU members have no plans to handicap their growers in this way. And why should they when peat used in composts makes up a tiny fraction of the amount that grows each year? The Baltic states, for example, would lose much-needed foreign exchange if their peat was embargoed.

Remember the fires around Moscow last summer? They weren't all forests but square miles of peat bog. Surely it would be more sensible to harvest a little peat and use some of the money to retain water levels for fire protection and regrowth rather than let it go up in smoke.

Trying to buy a bag of either peat-free or peat-based seed and cutting compost underlined to me the stupidity of the anti-peat proposals. Few centres stock it and the bag I did get contained wood and foreign matter that would not pass through a one-inch sieve. How can we raise tiny seeds in such mattress fillings and, if they do actually germinate, how do we prick out seedlings from it without root damage? It must be more environmentally friendly to use a few litres of peat to raise, say, Rudbeckia and ornamental millet, which provide winter feed for birds.

It is of concern that large areas of bog in Yorkshire are not flooded to the required depth for sphagnum moss regrowth. Apparently, a large area must be kept dry for nightjars and an even larger area flooded too deep for moss regrowth to suit common crane. Our bogs can be sacrificed for birds but not managed to supply horticulture, it seems. We need more home-produced food, locally-grown plants and homeowners growing their own if we are to reduce our carbon footprint. If this takes a quantity of sustainable peat, so be it.

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster

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