RHS and Monty Don criticises Seabrook peat open letter

Garden writer Peter Seabrook has called for a more open debate on the peat in horticulture issue with both for and against statements up for discussion, but Twitter writers have attacked his view.

Peter Seabrook has made a plea to keep peat
Peter Seabrook

Seabrook's open letter, first published in Horticulture Week, was signed by industry figures including Robert Hillier, Christine Walkden, Adrian Bloom and growers including Johnsons of Whixley, and it is being used by growers to show that banning peat is a more complex issue than Defra and the NGOs are saying.

A slanging match has erupted on Twitter, mainly attacking Seabrook's letter.

The RHS said: "This is disappointing. We believe a collective effort should be made on helping to grow home composting, use of alternatives and provide information on using the right product in the right place. The RHS has committed to being 100% peat-free across all operations by 2025."

TV presenter Monty Don said: "This is depressing, but predictable. The debate really is not about whether peat is a good thing or not. The debate is how we adapt to not using peat at all. So much better to be part of the solution than part of the problem."

The RHS split with the Growing Media Task Force to issue its own harder-line statement on last weekend's Defra retail peat ban consulation.

Seabrook asked if the RHS believes it needs a collective effort then why is it not supporting the GMTF statement? He added that the first line of the open letter "specifically recommends" more home composting rather than peat use: "It is universally agreed that peat should not be used for soil improvement. There are plenty of alternatives for this use, including garden compost, well-rotted manures and leaf mould."

Defra minister Rebecca Pow first revealed the details of the ban on the RHS podcast in April.

Seabrook said the Government appeared to be buckling under pressure from the green lobby and that our rulers should worry about other things, having lost heavily at a by-election in North Shropshire last week: "For the Government to spend time on banning peat looks like, to me, madness, when there are so many other far more pressing things to do. Why do they want to put people out of work and damage the horticulture industry?"

Seabrook has collected signatures from many horticulturists (Robert Hillier, Adrian and Jason Bloom, Steve McCurdy, Jim McColl, Bunny Guinness, Andrew Tokely, Robert and Paul Wharton, Jo Davey, Neil and Nicci Gow, Ken Cox, Paul Cooling, Christine Walkden, Alan Sargent, Graham Richardson and six company directors, Mike Smith, Tim Kerley, Derek Jarman, Steve and Val Bradley, Simon Crawford, Douglas Wilson, Garry Coward Williams plus Sir Brian Donohoe) for an open letter calling for "a much more open debate on the peat in horticulture issue with both for and against statements up for discussion". They say sphagnum moss peat should not be used for soil improvement but from raised bogs "has been and remains the best constituent for seed, cuttings and potting composts".

The Seabrook plea adds: "Moss peat use in seed and potting composts is currently, by all available measures, an environmentally friendly growing media and in most uses, results in the absorption of CO2, plus the sequestration of carbon in woody growth and the soil. Cut-away raised peat bogs can be restored, where water levels are raised and harvested areas re-seeded with the correct species of sphagnum. Newly planted sphagnum grows rapidly, laying down 5-7cms per year, which make peat a sustainable and renewable resource (e.g. Beadamoss). Restoring cut-away bogs and the rapid growth of seeded sphagnum absorbs carbon dioxide in great quantity. Most current peat-free composts need much higher rates of base fertilizer (up to four times more) to replace plant foods absorbed by breaking down fibres.  They also need more regular watering (at least double), which in turn leads to nitrates being lost in drainage water.  Peat has excellent water retention qualities and holds onto base fertilizers to feed plants.

  • ·        "The growth of some plants is not as good in many of the peat-free composts currently available and this includes all the ericaceous subjects, namely azaleas, camelia, heathers and rhododendrons.
  • ·        "Air dried peat can be compressed and is light in weight, so uses thinner polythene in wrappers and less fossil fuel to transport.
  • ·        "Sphagnum moss peat is sterile, clean to handle, pest and pollutant free.  Unlike some of the peat free alternatives, where there is a risk of introducing weedkillers and plant diseases.
  • ·        "Peat free composts are made up to widely differing recipes, so it is very difficult for home gardeners to adapt their watering and feeding practices when the compost mixes are no longer standard.  Where they experience poor growth and failures, we risk losing the attraction for people to stay at home gardening and growing some of their own food."   

#The International Peatlands Society, responding to the consultation, said according to IPS statistics, around 0.001% of British peatlands are used for peat extraction.


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