Peter Seabrook makes peat plea

Garden writer Peter Seabrook has met with a prominent politician to make the case for horticultural peat use in the UK.

Peter Seabrook

Peter Seabrook has been lobbying at the Houses of Parliament to research the situation concerning the use of peat in commercial horticulture and gardens. In May 2021, the Government's England Peat Action Plan proposed a ban on bagged retail sales of peat by 2024 and all use in horticulture by 2029.

Horticulture Week columnist Seabrook said: "I was staggered to find not one of our trade associations has put forward the case for continuing to use sphagnum moss peat from raised bogs.  Further, no individual, save myself, has explained the arguments to continue using peat, where there are no satisfactory alternatives and how the proposed ban will increase the release of CO2, decrease the sequestration of carbon, put many people out of work and do permanent harm to the fine UK Gardening reputation.

"The pro-peat side of the argument was welcomed by Parliament and seen as sensible and logical. Even the chair of The All Party Gardening and Horticulture Group [Bridgwater and West Somerset  MP Ian Liddell-Grainger] told me he has received no lobbying from the industry putting the case for peat, even though he has the Somerset Levels in his constituency!

"The proposed situation can be changed, it requires urgent, mass lobbying of MPs and as our trade associations have done nothing, are doing nothing and are impotent, grass roots voices have to be raised, if we are to avoid becoming the laughing stock of European growers and gardeners."

Seabrook gave nine reasons for not banning peat:

"Banning peat for horticulture is like expecting carpenters to build without wood. It will lead to the reduction in home food growing and reduce the number of home gardeners.

"Special dispensation should be given for the use of sphagnum moss peat, from raised bogs, for mushroom casing; seed, cuttings and small pot plant cultivation composts.

"Peat for these compost uses could sell at a premium with the additional money invested in paludiculture, to restore bogs and make such peat usage renewable and sustainable.

"After 40 years investment and research there are still no acceptable alternatives to peat.

"Without peat to case mushrooms home production would go to Eastern Europe, with the loss of businesses, employment and even more food imported from abroad. Similarly without fine grade peat to fill cell trays used to raise seedlings and cuttings, most, if not all, of this UK production would go to Holland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal and Israel where the peat use will continue.

"Peat-free growing media, is unavailable in sufficient quantities to meet current demands and in most cases their uses are more damaging to the environment.

"Wood fibres and coir in potting composts need more regular watering and additional nitrates, which in addition to the greater use of fossil fuel in their provision add to nitrate run-off in drainage water. Early trial results indicate that where wood fibres are used up to 25% in composts, to reduce peat, the additional nitrates needed in base fertilisers lead to more rapid breakdown of the peat and greater release of CO2 than the use of 100% peat.

"Widely varying recipes used for peat-free composts for gardeners are giving unacceptable growth and deterring homeowners from growing their own. While commercial growers have the skills to adapt the different watering and feeding required for peat-free potting composts, they also have the advantage of a standard recipe coming in from one supplier. When the home owner goes out to buy peat-free potting composts every brand is likely to be different and there are even changes within a given brand as the supply of ingredients changes. Peat-free composts with their higher base fertiliser content have a much shorter shelf life.

"The use of peat as recommended in sphagnum moss peat, from raised bogs will reduce the release of CO2 and add to carbon sequestration in soils. Every seedling and cutting raised will absorb CO2 and woody plants tie up carbon, in the case of trees, shrubs and conifers holding much more carbon than any loss from peat harvesting may cause. Home owners staying home gardening and growing some of their own food, are acting much more environmentally caring than those who abandon their plots and either drive or fly away on holiday."

Defra's latest position on peat is here.

HTA/GCA/RHS/GCA/GMA's position is here.

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