Harvested and used in soil and compost for decades, peat is made from a soil-like composition that is found in watery, slightly acidic, boggy areas. It mainly consists of decaying plant matter and provides a habitat for a lot of wildlife, sometimes the term peat moss (a moss that grows in bog-like conditions) and peat are used interchangeably. Many UK peatlands are protected by the government. (ref) The government (DEFRA) also suggested to phase out peat use in gardens by 2020, (ref) but this is not enforced, peat-free gardens are not likely to be achieved by 2020. (ref)
– It is relatively cheap. (ref)
– Block cutting used to be the most common form of harvesting for peat, but new methods have been created, like vacuuming. (ref)
– Peat is widely available. (ref)
– The UK harvests 700, 000 tonnes of peat each year, (ref) which means locally sourced peat will not have to travel as far and this will reduce its impact on the environment.
– In the UK, peat is already a massively depleted resource, with more than 90% of the UK’s peat already gone. (ref)
– Peat has massive environmental benefits, it is a major carbon sink, and the UK’s peat holds more carbon than the forests of the UK, France, and Germany combined. It provides a habitat for many species, a lot of them rare species and it can also filter water, (ref) holding up to 20 times its weight in water. To do all of this, peat needs to be wet, but it is drained when it is harvested, releasing its carbon and losing its environmental benefits. (ref) The harvesting of peat destroys the environment and releases massive amounts of carbon.
– Most of the peatland in the UK has already been damaged. (ref)
– A loss of 5% of peat would release the equivalent of the UK’s total annual greenhouse gas emission. (ref)
– Whilst peat may ‘grow’ in a sense, it only grows by one millimetre a year, (ref) it is harvested at a much larger rate and is therefore not sustainable.
– Harvesting peat destroys the vegetation on top of it. (ref)
– Gardeners consume two-thirds of harvested peat in the UK. More than 630, 000 tonnes of carbon is released each year by peat extraction, (ref) meaning around 415, 000 is due to gardener’s demand.
Peat has been widely used for decades, which has contributed to a lot of peat already being depleted, and harvesting still continues. This is problematic, however, due to the fact that peat is a massive CO2 store (helping reduce the impacts of enhanced climate change) whilst also providing habitats for organisms. Due to this, the continuation of peat usage degrades the environment on a large scale, and alternatives (listed below) are a good option to help plants grow and keep soil healthy.
– Peat is still being used, despite its environmental issues, and ‘environmentally friendly’ and ‘organic’ labeling does not always mean peat free. (ref)
– Alternatives to peat do exist, such as coir, wood, bracken, and green compost, they are not as multi-purpose as peat, however. (ref)
– Alternatives can be made locally which reduces their travel impacts.
– Sussex Wildlife Trust provides a guide for alternates and how and where to use them. (ref)
– Organic fertilisers can be used to replace peat.