It’s amazing how few people know the truth about peat. Speak to avid gardeners, ardent environmentalists, devoted wildlife lovers, and shockingly few will know that peat, when left in the ground, provides a precious home to many rare species, and is a rich store of carbon. Globally, peatlands store half a trillion tonnes of carbon, twice as much as the world’s forests.
For all of our sakes, we need to keep peat in the ground. But it’s not just for the climate, and the wildlife; peatlands also serve an important role in preventing flooding as they’re great at absorbing water, and then releasing it slowly.
This month is ‘Peat Free April’, and the issue has hit the headlines like almost never before. On 2nd April, the Wildlife Trusts published a survey revealing that only one of 20 leading garden retailers were planning to eliminate peat from its shelves this year. On the same day, a group of renowned gardeners and conservationists, coordinated by the #PeatFreeApril campaign, wrote to the Environment Secretary asking for a ban on the sale of peat compost. Amid the dozens of signatories were Alan Titchmarsh, Dave Goulson, Isabella Tree, James Wong and Kate Bradbury. The government issued a statement saying they would consult on the issue of peat later this year. And then a couple of days later, the Co-op supermarket announced it would no longer sell compost containing peat. Progress!
The issue has been covered across the national media and the hashtag #PeatFreeApril has been shared many thousands of times. The peat-free movement is having a moment.
In the year that the UK government hosts the COP 26 climate summit, dare we hope that they will introduce a ban on the sale of peat compost? After all, perfectly good peat-free compost is available, as Seedball fans know.
This may be the chance for change. If you want to get involved, here are three ways that you can:
1) Choose peat-free compost at the garden centre. You’ll need to check that the compost in pot plants is also peat-free. If you’re feeling brave, ask your local garden centre to sell more peat-free options and to ditch the peat entirely. The Lancashire Peatlands Initiative have made a brilliant video about their ‘PeatFree garden centre challenge’. There is even a list of entirely peat-free garden centres: three cheers for all of them!
2) If you’re up for it, forget shop-bought, plastic-wrapped compost altogether and make your own. Professor of biology and author of The Garden Jungle, Dave Goulson, has made a wonderful video about how easy it is to make from your garden clippings and kitchen scraps. You will need about half green stuff (grass cuttings, vegetable leftovers) and half brown, woody stuff (twigs, cardboard, sawdust) to get the right sort of balance between carbon and nitrogen.
3) Tell your friends about it. And your family. And your neighbours. And their cat. Switching to peat-free compost is one of the simplest planet-protecting changes any of us can make. But people won’t ditch the peat unless they know they need to.
So, for peat’s sake, join the peat-free movement. It’s happening across gardens near you.
Anna Ford is a writer and environmental campaigner with the #PeatFreeApril campaign.