Peat harvest in peril due to failure to drain watercourses

The Environment Agency has left the peat harvest in jeopardy because it has failed to drain watercourses around the Somerset Levels peat-extraction areas for 20 years, Somerset Peat Producers Association secretary Ben Malin has claimed.

He pointed out that peat producers in the area had a successful harvest in 2013 but added "we'll struggle" to harvest if rain continues into March 2014.

Malin said the Environment Agency "used to dredge every year from alternate banks but stopped in the 1980s". Now it just cuts weeds every few years and landowners are no allowed to dredge themselves, he added.

"As a result, the main rivers are substantially silted up - I've heard by up to 40 per cent," said Malin.

He added that the constant churn of environment ministers has exacerbated the problem, with Richard Benyon visiting last year before losing his ministerial job in autumn 2013.

The Environment Agency used to fund dredging with its maintenance budget but now says it needs capital budgets to do work.

Somerset producers have always blended imported light spaghnum peat with its unique sedge peat, but Malin said not dredging will lead to more imports.

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