Growers call for clarification on peat issue

Plea made after Alan Knight says bog conservation and peat reduction are discrete planning and commercial problems.

Task Force Chair Alan Knight addresses HTA Garden Futures event - image: HW
Task Force Chair Alan Knight addresses HTA Garden Futures event - image: HW

A grower peat-reduction task force member says the reasons for phasing out peat still need to be made clear in the wake of task force chair Professor Alan Knight's proposal to separate the issues of bog conservation and finding peat alternatives.

Knight has proposed distinguishing between the two key peat issues to clarify the problem. He argued the protection of peat bogs needed to be dealt with through the planning system, while the move to peat alternatives was a different issue.

Growers have called for clarity over what problem the reduction of peat is trying to solve. "We need to work out what we're trying to do," said Millais Nurseries owner David Millais following the first meeting of the task force last week. "Are we phasing out peat to protect bogs or for carbon reduction? For a lot of crops there's nothing else that will work. We need to say why we are trying to reduce peat in the first place."

He added that the meeting was frustrating. "Growers have got a good understanding of what is needed, and it's about how to get people to understand what we do."

The NFU has said the "decoupling" proposed by Knight was a positive development that aligns the UK with other approaches being taken elsewhere in Europe.

The NFU has submitted written evidence to a new inquiry by Defra on the Natural Environment White Paper. The NFU responded that "having a policy to phase out peat use places the UK Government in a unique position and UK growers in an uncompetitive position, because they are using more costly peat alternatives than their EU competitors". The NFU also highlighted concerns about the quality of peat replacements.

Speaking at the HTA Garden Futures conference last week, Knight said it was necessary to take the ethics out of the discussion and see peat reduction as a commercial issue.

"We are going to run out of peat anyway, and it is getting more controversial," he said. "As English bogs become protected, the sources of peat will be further away. This is not an ethical issue, it's a commercial one. Why rely on a finite resource? We need to move to other media, and I don't think the consumer needs to be involved in this."

He added that the protection of habitats is a planning issue, and therefore should be resolved through the planning system. "It needs to be done bog by bog," he said.

Stockbridge Technology centre boss Graham Ward said the carbon argument has been blown out of the water by chancellor George Osborne's comments on putting growth first, while a Business Innovation and Skills consultation has made it clear that price rises for consumers are unacceptable.

"Defra says in its impact assessment that gardeners will have to pay more for alternative growing media. So is that restrictive practice by a government department that can be challenged under the new act? Growers will work in partnership but not with regulation dates over our heads," he said.

Task force members

B&Q, Bord na Mona, British Retail Consortium, Growing Media Association, Delfland Nurseries, Fleurie Nursery, Friends of the Earth, Horticultural Development Company, Hillier Nurseries, HTA, Homebase, Horticultural Coir, Johnsons of Whixley, Lincolnshire Herbs, Lovania Nursery, Lowaters Nursery, Madestein, Melcourt, Millais Nurseries, Monaghan Mushrooms, National Trust, NFU, RHS, Scotsdales, Scotts, Somerset Peat Producers Association, The Garden Centre Group, The Shropshire Group, Vitacress Group, Vital Earth, Westland Horticulture, West Sussex Growers Association, William Sinclair.

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