TV peat debate highlights divided opinions

Commercial growers still say they cannot do without peat despite the Gardeners' World special on 27 March, which concluded that gardeners need to accelerate moves towards being peat-free.

Industry figures including HW writer Peter Seabrook, Westland technical director Jamie Robinson, Ball Colegrave general manager Peter Byrne and Growing Media Initiative chairman Tim Briercliffe appeared on the programme, presented by Toby Buckland, in which a phalanx of environmentalists argued against peat use.

Reacting to the show, Lothian-based bedding grower Pentland Plants director Richard Spray said: "In commercial horticulture we need to use peat - it's the only product with consistent moisture, nutrients and structure.

"The programme didn't show eastern Europe where they reckon that peat is growing faster than they can harvest it. Commercial horticulture in the UK only uses five per cent of UK peat. It was a one-sided argument."

Spray questioned the monitoring of peat use in the UK and claimed no one checks what he imports from Latvia.

North Yorkshire grower Johnsons of Whixley director Andrew Richardson said: "From the professional growers' point of view it's difficult to come up with one medium that suits everything.

"Plants are like humans - some are vegetarian and some eat meat. It is right for the industry to go more peat-free but it's not something you can do overnight."

HW writer Peter Seabrook, who appeared on the show defending peat use, said: "To not include Scotts and Bord na Mona, let alone Levington Research, was like doing a programme on football missing out the Premiership.

"I don't understand why environmentalists were not questioned while the pro-peat lobby was made to look guilty."

Sun gardening writer Val Bradley said: "People started ringing me halfway through to say how badly they felt Peter was treated. Biased is one word to describe that hour; another is brainwashing."

H Irish peat producer Westland's technical director Jamie Robinson, who also appeared, said: "I think that the programme worked well and it was a fairly balanced view of the peat issue, even the minister (Joan Ruddock) recognised what has been achieved and the fact that the (90 per cent by 2010) target may not be met."

Anti-peat campaigner, RSPB sustainable development policy officer Olly Watts said: "It gave a good view across the various interests, showing why peatland conservation is so important and why the industry is taking so long to move to alternatives. Hopefully, the programme will help shift things forward to a more sustainable future."

HTA business development director Tim Briercliffe said: "From a production point of view it is not a straightforward switch to alternatives. It was useful in showing how the industry was tackling problems. The BBC tried to get a broad spectrum of views."

The programme featured Ball Colegrave general manager Peter Byrne defending Ball's use of peat, and Pioneer Plants' owner John Hoyland saying he was growing in 30 per cent peat mixes. Kew horticulture support manager Dave Barnes showed the botanic gardens' peat-free compost area.

The show found that Wyevale gave the best advice on peat, with Homebase, B&Q, Focus and Notcutts saying they are retraining staff on advice given on alternatives.

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