The chair of the scientific advisory board of the International Peat Society (IPS) has criticised Defra for using "unsubstantiated" arguments on biodiversity and climate change in defence of its proposed ban on peat.
Professor Jack Rieley said: "I believe that the case for stopping the use of peat in growing media is unnecessary and misguided. Defra has not taken account of all the relevant information and uses arguments on biodiversity and climate change that have not been substantiated."
He said the IPS was supportive of using less peat in horticulture and developing alternatives - if they deliver quality, reliability and safety - and was not "against an arbitrary deadline".
Rieley, who was a lecturer and peatland scientist at the University of Nottingham and has spent the past 20 years researching tropical peatland in South-East Asia, estimated the carbon emissions from UK peat extraction as 0.07 per cent of total emissions.
He said biodiversity arguments from Defra were flawed because some peatland had become too dry to support wildlife. "I want Defra to present all the facts of the relative impact of using peat," he added.
The Finnish-based IPS's Strategy for Responsible Peatland Management embraces the wise-use approach to peat and peatland that supports the maintenance of biodiversity, reduction in carbon emissions and research into peat replacements, said Rieley.
This strategy is being adopted worldwide by companies and trade associations to ensure that peat is not extracted from pristine bogs and that after-use restoration aims to recreate the potential for peat accumulation in the future.
IPS president Donal Clarke said: "The science of horticulture does not allow for the complete abandonment of peat. When the UK started these ideas on limits on peat, Dutch horticulturists said they would be laughing all the way to the bank."
Clarke said the Dutch were working on a new national policy based on assurances that peat comes from areas already heavily damaged and not from new bogs. "The Finnish have a new peatland strategy, as does Ireland." Irish peat producer Bord na Mona is working towards 30 per cent peat alternatives in retail products.
Rieley will take part in a panel debate at the Stockbridge Technology Centre conference on compost on 16 February. For further details, call 01757 268275.
Peat protocol Assuring standards
The HTA is leading the development of a quality assurance protocol on bagged compost products through the peat task force. This could see Kitemarks used to guarantee an acceptable standard.
Policy manager Gary Scroby said: "Given that customers have mixed experience with previous (peat-reduced and peat-free) products, the emblem will be an assurance it is going to work."
A technical group is agreeing protocols, such as the inclusion of PAS 100 for green waste products. Scroby said the scheme will be self-policing. "I hope producers would like that quality assurance on the bag."