What's peat's future after 76% vote to keep using it?

HW poll November 2021

Three-quarters of the hundreds of horticulture professionals who responded to Horticulture Week's poll say they want to carry on using peat in the first industry survey that asked the simple question: "Do you want to carry on using peat?"

Hundreds responded passionately in just a few days, showing how emotive the subject is.

Industry bodies came up with dates they said the industry will stop using peat, slightly behind Government dates, which were announced in May just afterward the industry plan.

The RHS has fully embraced peat-free in the last year, following the National Trust 20 years ago. Industry figures feel NGOs - and loud gardening voices such as Monty Don -  have "won the peat-free argument" and Horticulture Week writer Peter Seabrook feels he is fighting a solo battle for peat retention.

Exemptions for propagation, ericaceous, roses, veg production and mushrooms are required say many growers, agreeing with Seabrook's comments published in Horticulture Week. The darkest views - expressed by polled readers here - are that gardening and UK growing are doomed if the UK diverges from the rest of the world and bans peat.

B&Q and Dobbies are among retailers who have dithered on peat-free deadlines before settling on imminent dates - retail use looks doomed suggest many garden centre owners. 

Having missed the Government's retail peat phase out date of 2020, the industry has not shown it can comply with Government voluntary measures.

Defra minister Rebecca Pow announced the plan to end retail peat use by 2024, and commercial use by 2029, on an RHS podcast this spring, showing how Defra has bypassed communicating how important policy issues for the industry will be decided. However, political indecision has led to the delay all year of publication a consultation on retail peat use. Further announcements are due on 13 December. Defra said: "We will still be consulting by the end of the year."

Ex gardening broadcaster Pow's fellow Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger - peat is still dug in Somerset - says the industry has not asked him to keep peat, and he is chairman of the All-Party Horticulture and Gardening Group.

Liddell-Grainger met Seabrook this week and told him the only way to keep peat is to write to your MP with all the reasons why it is still required for growing, because that message has not got through to Defra. Exemptions and extended deadlines may be considered by politicians.

COP26 has shown sustainability is the biggest driver of policy, but at COP26, as exclusively reported by Horticulture Week, the European perspective on peat and sustainability is very different from the UK's.

The International Peatlands Society and Growing Media Europe are successfully campaigning to keep peat with a bog restoration argument backing that up.

Manufacturers ICL, Westland and Evergreen Garden Care have talked about going peat-free at Horticulture Week, but the situation in Ireland is a concern for many suppliers. Ireland effectively banned peat  ttwo years ago but is now importing from the EU and there are political moves to reinstate digging, though much of Ireland's peat (+90%) has historically been exported.

#In reaction to HortWeek's work, the HTA issued the following statement:

"The Growing Media Taskforce, comprising the HTA, GMA, NFU, GCA, RHS and individual industry representatives, said in response to the results of the Horticulture Week survey published today: 

“The horticulture industry takes a responsible approach to environmental matters. Earlier this year we consulted extensively with our membership about this issue and came to a position of what we collectively believe are realistic and achievable peat removal targets – achieving this, however, is entirely dependent on having the necessary supply of alternative materials.  

"We have been very clear with Government on this. We set out and presented an action plan which includes ‘asks’ around investing in better research and development of novel alternatives and the provision of business development funds for businesses making the switch to peat-free. Some plants will need longer targets for peat removal due to the sensitivity they have to a change away from peat.  

"The industry’s Responsible Sourcing Scheme, which will begin in earnest in January 2022, will assist consumers in making informed choices about the products they purchase. This, alongside an education campaign we are producing to train garden centre staff, will build consumer knowledge about successful use of peat-free products." 

In response to HortWeek's survey, the NFU and HTA have set up their own, to present evidence when they receive it on "economic impacts should growers not be supported in making a manageable transition away from peat, reasonable time frames and targeted exemptions in areas where viable alternatives are not yet available will also be considered".

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