Peat minister: 'we won't scupper the sector'

Speaking at a Environmental Horticulture Group (formerly OHRT) reception in Parliament, peat minister Trudy Harrison says the forthcoming peat ban will not undermine the industry.

Titchmarsh, Fookes, Harrison, Carter, Douglas-Davies

Harrison said she will not do anything to "scupper your sector" and will continue to work with the sector on peat alternatives and ensure sustainable supply of peat-free alternatives.

She said Defra did want to reduce peat use and reduction has been successful so far. Harrison said the sector was required to be in good health so the Government could meet the Government Environment Improvementt Plan. However, she did not say how Defra will offer additional support to go peat-free in the face of growing opposition to its plans. "Yes, we do need to reduce the use of peat and since 2011 you have been particularly successful in doing that voluntarily and I will continue to work with your sector, as will my officials, to find those alternatives and ensure that there is a sustainable supply of peat-free alternatives but we won't do that in a way that scuppers your sector.

"I certainly will not preside over something that scuppers your sector because we need a horticultural sector, environmental horticulture sector, to be buoyant, to be thriving, to be prosperous and to ensure we meet our biodiversity net gains.

"Everything within the EIS, for nutrient neutrality, to ensure we plant 400 million more trees in this country and to improve the condition or our water, our air and our soil.

"And most importantly because gardening is often the start of people's journey into ecology or other environmental sciences. And as we start to think about the skills for the future and green jobs, and the real gaps we have, can I ask you all the think about how you can upskill or country and engage with gardeners and everybody in the sector to work with Government agencies and the private sector as well because that's on of the challenges we have, making sure we have enough people working in the sector to achieve all of society's aims and the legal duty we have in Defra." 

For the first time, grower peat use is above retail use, according to new industry figures, which show an overall decline in peat use ahead of a retail ban at the end of 2024. That ban is a done deal, though legislation looks difficult before the election, which could in 2024 and must be before January 2025. The future of grower use still has a little flexibility after a belated campaign, after Defra had announced its ban date, to push the date back.

Lack of evidence presented to Defra has led to carnivorous and ericaceous plants being left of the exemption list ahead of a planned ban on grower use at the end of 2026. Other exemptions are plugs and mushrooms. The industry wanted a 2028 or 2030 ban but Defra brought that forward to 2024 and 2026, taking associations by surprise. They are now campaigning hard to get a delay. Defra believes legislation is the only way to keep the momentum on grower peat reduction, which has fallen to half of what it was pre-Covid and could meet a 2030 ban date.

HortWeek surveys have found more than half of the industry expects to miss the 2026 deadline.

The Parliamentary Reception was hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Gardening & Horticulture Group, with BALI, HTA and Westland Horticulture the sponsors.

Baroness Fookes, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Gardening and Horticulture Group, introduce  speakers 

  • Boyd Douglas-Davies, chair, Environmental Horticulture Group
  • Trudy Harrison MP, Defra minister
  • Jim Carter, Downton Abbey actor
  • Alan Titchmarsh, gardener and broadcaster

The EHG’s core members are now Arboriculture Association, BALI, HTA and RHS. There were 150 people invoted by them at the event, plus MPs and peers. HTA are opposed to the current peat ban dates while the RHS supports them.

Harrison, speaking to the industry for the first time, added that she is a keen gardener. She said horticulture is worth £1.5bn to the economy. There's £160m for future technology and support for TIAH available. The EIS has 10 goals including thriving plants and wildlife, and clean air and water. 

Douglas-Davies said Westland has spent £50m on peat-free. He added that horticulture is "at the heart" of Government environmental plans and horticulture is "too often overlooked or seen as decorative/ornamental" and not taken seriously. There are 30 million gardeners and all Government departments can be helped by gardening: “Caring for and improving the environment – be that through private gardens, urban green spaces or public parks - goes to the heart of what the Environmental Horticulture Group stands for.

“I was honoured to chair the OHRG and now I am delighted to chair the EHG as we continue to champion the enormous success and exciting potential of the environmental horticulture sector. I look forward to working closely with government stakeholders to achieve our shared aims in a breadth of policy areas including economic, environmental, science, research, net zero, business, health, planning, taxation, skills and education.

“The time is now if we are to make the most of the next decade of growth opportunities and work with government to create a truly greener, happier, more environmentally sustainable society and economy.”

Fookes said: “I am delighted that this Reception has brought together not only a large number of representatives from the many aspects of horticulture but also a wonderful turn out of MPs and peers from all parties.

“I hope that the new body launched today will spearhead a new era in horticulture where at long last it will take its rightful place as a key player in mitigating climate change and promoting biodiversity.  I see it as my role to support this endeavour and to do my best to get the Government to rise to the challenge too!”

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