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Many growers say being without peat will put them at an unfair disadvantage against imports. Some in the industry say there is not enough raw material and that amateur gardeners may get worse results if they use peat-frees, which could put them off gardening. Ireland has banned peat harvesting and is now importing from the EU, with a new report suggesting the ban should be reversed.
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. A Defra consultation on peat is due by the end of 2021. The Growing Media Taskforce is planning a response for the forthcoming consultation on peat use.
COP26 and many anti-peat campaigns from Monty Don, NGOs and individuals have made the case to ban peat use for environmental reasons as peatlands are a carbon store and damaged bogs are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Many Government agencies still use peat - Forestry England, Forest Research, and the Lake District National Park Authority have between them bought 3,833 cubic metres of peat-based compost over the last five years. LDNPA has stopped buying peat. But Forestry England said 100% peat-free products did not provide a sufficiently high production rate of successful forest transplants, particularly alder and birch, though the Government agency has committed to end buying peat-based growing media by the end of this Parliament (2024).
Horticulture Week columnist Peter Seabrook said after a Parliamentary meeting with the All Party Gardening and Horticulture Group chairman Ian Liddell-Grainger this November: "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 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 saying there would be a reduction in home food growing and number of home gardeners.
He said sphagnum moss peat, from raised bogs, must be used for mushroom casing, seed, cuttings and small pot plant cultivation composts.
Seabrook added that there are still no acceptable alternatives to peat.
"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."
The industry has not opposed the plan to reduce peat use in horticulture, but says there needs to be viable alternatives in sufficient volumes. Peat use in mushroom production and vegetable plant propagation are two specific areas where the NFU has the 2030 target is not achievable.