Defra under pressure to alter peat survey

Defra is believed to be under pressure to change the way its peat survey is carried out, removing the soil conditioners and mulches, and focusing on peat use - a move that would not please the industry.

The next survey will be carried out in 2009/10 and will be published in 2011, after the 90 per cent peat-reduction target should have been met.

Westland technical director Dr Jamie Robinson said latest survey figures from the 2007 survey show that although the percentage of peat is declining, because sales volumes are increasing, overall peat use is fairly static and not declining. He added: "Some NGOs are not happy with this and I suspect have put pressure on Defra.

"I would not be happy with this proposal because it is moving the goalposts - it makes all the previous data useless and would not show what efforts the industry has made, with no real involvement from Defra."

Defra is also in the process of placing a contract to look at calculating the costs to the industry of achieving the 2010 target. This could be a way of keeping the target but changing the timescale.

Robinson said: "This study has to be completed by the year end and presumably they will decide on what to do with the 2009 survey.

"This study should throw up some interesting numbers, although it will be difficult to calculate the cost to a company such as Westland with all the investment we have made."

A Defra representative said peat reduction work with the HTA's Growing Media Initiative (GMI) was progressing: "We are looking at the best ways forward following 2010, and are working with stakeholders from industry and non-governmental organisations.

"To help us, studies have been commissioned, including: looking at the carbon impact of peat and peat alternatives; a study on the cost-to-date to industry of meeting the target, which will demonstrate the effort already made by industry; and the potential cost of a range of different scenarios for the future.

"We expect to publish the results of a new study into greenhouse gas emissions of peat and alternative products soon."

GMI manager Tim Briercliffe said: "This has always been the measure used by Defra and we all know where we stand with it so I think it would be unhelpful to change it now, especially just one year before the target date.

"You could remove soil conditioners and mulches but you'd have to come up with new targets or else you'd be comparing different things and it would not fairly represent the progress the industry has made in peat reduction.

"Defra is planning on setting up a new stakeholder working group to tackle the targets issue and will be using the projects it commissions to inform any future decisions on targets. As far as I know, it isn't pre-empting this and will await the outcome from the research."

William Sinclair managing director Danny Adamson said adverse exchange rates will make peat substitutes less attractive and the fall in bark supply due to sawmills reducing production may also have a detrimental effect on usage. He added that it would come down to consumer demand.

- See peatalternatives2007.pdf.

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