With the news that the government is set to ban the sale of peat products to gardeners by 2024, there has been an increase in people searching online to find out what peat is and what kind of products are peat-free. And since we’re the first UK company to produce natural fertilisers through a renewable energy process, we thought we’re in the perfect position to answer some of the top questions you have about peat.
What is peat?
Peat – or peat moss – is a natural resource that is found in bogs. It’s the surface layer of soil and is made of partly decomposed organic matter – mainly plant material. Peat bogs are a type of wetland that have a high acid content, are waterlogged and have a nutrient and oxygen deficiency. You’ll find plants like grass, mosses and trees in bogs, and the acidity stops these types of plants from fully decaying. Over millions of years, all of this partly-decomposed matter builds up, turning into carbon, and becomes peat.
When peat is harvested, the bog is drained, which releases the carbon that it’s stored for years into the atmosphere. Large tractors scrape the peat from the surface of the bogs and it’s then compacted into bricks. Because it’s been disturbed, the remaining peat left in the bog continues to release carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.
The harvested peat is then packaged up and used as fuel or in compost. When it’s spread on a garden, the carbon in the peat turns into carbon dioxide and adds to greenhouse gas levels. Since commercial businesses use peat in the tonnes for a range of uses, it’s a significant problem.
Where are peat bogs found?
Peat bogs are found across the world in 180 countries, but we’ll focus on the peatlands that we have in the UK. We have three main types of peatlands here: blanket bog, raised bog and fenland. The UK has 14% of the world’s blanket bog, and 60% of our peatland is in Scotland.
In peat bogs you’ll find a rich variety of wildlife. They’re home to rare wading birds, carnivorous plants and lots of insects. Some of these creatures only live in peatlands, so by harvesting peat we’re destroying their habitat and contributing to their extinction.
Why is the UK banning peat?
The UK is banning peat sales to gardeners from 2024. Peat bogs are important to our planet as they act as carbon sinks, locking carbon away, and is a great habitat for wildlife. Peat bogs are also good for water management and they help to preserve vegetation and artefacts that will be useful to archaeologists in years to come.
Peat is so vital to helping reduce and even reverse climate change, but for as long as it is harvested for fuel and compost it will cause damage to our environment. It needs to be wet and boggy to store carbon and to perform the other critical functions, but we’ve been cultivating and draining peatlands for centuries. Dry peat can easily get washed away and is also a fire hazard. Plus, dry peat emits carbon dioxide and is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gases.
When peat is left in its natural state, it can store more carbon than forests. The UK’s peatlands store over three billion tonnes of carbon – that’s the same amount as all the forests in the UK, France and Germany combined. It’s our biggest store of carbon, storing the equivalent of 20 years of all UK carbon dioxide emissions. In addition to this, peat bogs slow the flow of rainfall which helps to prevent flooding, and they can also hold up to 20 times its own weight in water.
Once you know how crucial peat is to helping the planet, it’s obvious that we need to stop using peat in our gardens. But lots of gardeners are worried that they won’t be able to get the same results from their flowers and plants if they’re not using peat products.
Why use peat free compost?
It takes 100 years to form just 10cm of peat, and Defra suggests that we’d have to reduce our peat use to 2% of the current level to balance what we take out. It’s not a viable renewable resource, but it comes cheap and it offers great results in gardening due to adding lots of organic matter to the soil. But today, there are plenty of peat-free composts available that offer great results without harming the environment. And one of those is PlantGrow.
All of PlantGrow’s products are organic and made using a renewable energy process, so you’re not only helping the environment by keeping peat in bogs, but also by choosing a product that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases during manufacture. The base ingredients include cereal and grass crops that have gone through the process of anaerobic digestion and have all the essential soil microbes that plants, flowers and trees need to thrive.
PlantGrow is made in the beautiful Norfolk countryside, unlike some other peat alternatives like coir which is imported from places like India and Sri Lanka. So whether it’s a compost, fertiliser or tomato food you need, choosing PlantGrow is the eco-friendly option.
At the moment, there aren’t many other peat-free options that are made entirely in the UK, and garden centres will need to find alternatives to peat to supply to their customers. We’re working with more and more businesses to help them offer their customers a high-quality alternative to peat that gives fantastic results without harming the environment.
The Lancashire Wildlife Trust explains why peatlands are so important: