The Government has confirmed that a ban on sales of peat-based compost for gardeners will come into effect next year, but it does not plan to extend the prohibition to professional horticulture until 2030.
The move has caused confusion and consternation from a range of groups and environmental campaigners.
In August last year the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra's) announced it would ban retailers from selling peat-based compost to private gardeners in England from 2024. But a decision on when the ban would come into effect on for the professional sector was deferred for further consultation and investigation.
Now the department has announced the ban for the remainder of peat-containing products will now be brought in in 2030.
Photo: Mark Hamblin
Defra has received more than 5,000 responses to its consultation, of which 95 per cent were in favour of a ban. It said following the extensive consultations, it has proposed specific technical exemptions to allow time for the horticultural sector to overcome technical barriers to moving away from the use of peat.
James Barnes, Chairman, HTA commented: “UK growers are absolutely behind the sustainable transition from peat-use. A decision from Defra on the ban dates has been long-awaited.
“The Government’s original ambition was for England to be peat free by 2030. Although challenging, this date was accepted as creating the time to have a workable transition away from peat.
“This is why the announcement that the ban will come into effect four years earlier at the end of 2026, even with phased exemptions, has caused widespread concern and alarm amongst professional users and growers. There are already plants, trees and crops in the ground now intended for sale after that date. More than halving the trial seasons available to achieve a successful transition is hugely disappointing and will be a blow to many businesses who are already facing economic and trading pressures. Until legislation is on the statute books and guidance ready, we are without 100% certainty and clarity on the detail of how the ban, phased approach, technical exemptions and handling imports will work in practice. This is totally unacceptable.”
“The 2026 date feels arbitrary and could severely impact British horticulture – a sector which underpins the government’s 25-year environment plan. The use of peat has already declined significantly but there are big challenges in ensuring there is the quantity and quality of sustainable peat free alternatives for growers to access by 2026.”
“The HTA has been constant and constructive in its engagement with government on ensuring the move away from peat is achieved in a way that is sustainable and truly does deliver for the environment as well as Britain’s environmental horticulture sector. It is vital we see government action in creating a professional grower forum to engage on the multitude of issues arising including the timing and exemptions.”
Ailis Watt, peat policy officer at The Wildlife Trusts, described the announcement as bitterly disappointing: “Last year we welcomed the news that the UK Government would ban the sale of bagged peat compost in England by the end of 2024. The Wildlife Trusts hoped that a ban on all peat products would follow shortly after this date.
“The destruction of irreplaceable peatlands for gardening should have been outlawed long ago. These precious habitats are vital for nature and for our climate because they store vast amounts of carbon and are home to some of the UK’s most special wildlife. We need to see far greater levels of ambition if the UK is to relinquish its status as one of the most nature-depleted countries on Earth or come close to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Peatlands must be better protected as a matter of urgency.
“The decision to allow the sale of peat-containing products to continue until 2030 does not reflect the value of peatlands - here and abroad - and is at odds with this Government's manifesto commitment to ‘deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth’.
“It contradicts the notion that gardening is an activity which is beneficial to nature and places a burden of responsibility on the consumer to ensure they are not inadvertently buying environmentally destructive peat-based products.”
Replacing the estimated 1.7 million cubic meters of peat used in horticulture with sustainable alternatives is a huge challenge, but one which has today been boosted by £320,000 of grant funding secured from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
Newly founded environmental innovator Sizzle has brought together organisations including waste management companies, garden retailers, trade bodies, NGOs and academics to explore new sustainable alternatives to peat and how to make it easier for people to select a greener choice.
The funding will support an initial 18-month trial that will look to enhance the quality and consistency of composted materials derived from waste streams, in a specific area. The resultant materials will then potentially have a wider range of uses helping to reduce the amount of raw materials needed by the industry. We aim to explore the use of derivatives from green, agricultural and food waste streams and work closely with the local authority and waste processor to deliver key messages and increase the quality of feedstocks and resultant compost.
The project will also demonstrate to gardeners how best to use peat alternatives as a growing medium and highlight how composting and the use of wormeries can create mulch and soil enhancers.
A location for this trial is currently being sought and if successful, the results will be openly shared, enabling it to be rolled out on a national level.
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