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Muck in to make peat history

Last modified: 09 April 2009

Common hawker dragonfly in flight

One of the many species that live in peat bogs.

Image: Graham Catley

With a staggering 94% of lowland peat bog habitats in the UK now destroyed by peat extraction, we are urging gardeners to go peat-free.

The Easter weekend is one of the most popular for the nation to hit garden centres, and there is no better time to find peat alternatives.

Make the switch

Around a fifth of the annual peat purchase for gardens is over the four-day break as traditionally people spend more time in their gardens with brighter weather and longer evenings.

New government figures show that 54% of materials used in soil improvers in UK gardens are now peat free, which is the highest ever percentage in the UK. Usage of materials involving peat has gradually declined over recent years and has dropped by almost 20% in the last decade alone.

But we are worried that many gardeners who have not yet made the switch may still not be aware of the damage they are doing by using peat, and may even think of it as a ‘green’ product. We want even more people to go peat free this year!

'Always look for ‘peat free’ logos as anything less than that could be having a severe impact on the environment.'

Peat usage destroys rare wildlife habitat. It takes thousands of years to form, at a rate of just one millimetre each year. Its slow growth means that its commercial use is not sustainable and wildlife living in peat bogs could face extinction as the bogs are destroyed.

Birds like snipe, curlew and skylark breed on peat bogs, as well as a variety of butterflies and dragonflies. 

Peat supports many species of bog mosses, rare flowering plants such as cranberry, bog myrtle and bog asphodel, and insectivorous plants like sundews and butterworts.

Extracting peat also exacerbates climate change by releasing carbon dioxide that would otherwise be safely stored in the ground.

Dr Mark Avery, RSPB Conservation Director says: “We simply have to put an end to peat extraction as it causes appalling destruction to wetland wildlife. 94% of lowland peat bog habitats in the UK have already been destroyed and many species rely on these kind of habitats.

“Whilst there has been an encouraging decrease in peat usage in recent years, there is still a long way to go and its not always clear whether the products you buy include peat. Always look for ‘peat free’ logos as anything less than that could be having a severe impact on the environment.

“We urge all gardeners and gardening businesses to use peat-free alternatives and make the switch to peat free this Easter.”

Chris Beardshaw, award winning garden designer and TV presenter, says: “Many gardeners don’t realise the damage that peat causes and I’m sure once they do, they will be compelled to use other alternatives.

'You can have beautiful gardens full of flowers, plants and wildlife without damaging the environment.'

“Making your own compost or opting for peat-free products enriches your soil just as well. You can have beautiful gardens full of flowers, plants and wildlife without damaging the environment.”

As well as buying one of the wide range of peat-free products available you can make your own compost.

Despite some peat suppliers still not coming clean about the impact of their products on climate change, other retailers are taking steps towards helping eradicate peat usage.

Home improvement retailer B&Q has recently discontinued the sale of 100% peat bales in its stores, a move that the RSPB hopes will encourage other retail outlets to follow suit.

How you can help

Tell us about your garden and we’ll provide you with tailored wildlife-gardening advice!