For all our sakes – Stop using Peat (first published in West Sussex County Times)

Peat-free Compost

No doubt you have heard that for a healthy planet, we should use peat-free compost, but do you know why, or what exactly is peat?

Peat is soil made up of organic matter that has only partially rotted down. The lack of oxygen and the acidic nature of waterlogged peat bogs prevent bacteria and fungi from breaking down the dead plant material.  It is formed over millions of years, at a rate of only 1mm thickness per year, but we are currently extracting it at a rate much, much faster than that!  By ‘mining’ peat we are both damaging the ecology and adding to climate change.

Forestry England reports 80% of our ancient peatland has already been removed or damaged, threatening biodiversity on a huge scale. Peatlands are an important habitat to a wide range of plants and wildlife that have evolved to live only in this unique environment.

Peatbogs here in the UK contain large amounts of Sphagnum moss which can store over 20 times its own weight in water.  This incredible fact means they are an important resource in both flood and drought prevention, particularly in our country (even Sussex) as it is becoming increasingly prone to drought and flood.

Covering less than 3% of the world’s land surface, it is believed that remaining peatlands contain twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined.  But, when dug up, the peat releases the carbon back into the atmosphere, while we need to keep it locked into the soil.

What can you do about this?  If you are planning to plant a tree for the Queen’s Jubilee, simply ensure that you do so without using compost which contains peat.

Shockingly, bagged compost for retail accounts for 70% of peat sold in the UK, so as consumers we have the power collectively to make a huge difference.  So next time you are at the garden centre please carefully choose the compost you buy.  It used to be that alternatives were more expensive, but with recent investment this is not always the case and there are now many varieties available, all targeted for different purposes.  Remember, if the bag doesn’t clearly state it is peat free it almost certainly isn’t.  Also be aware that most potted plants at garden centres come in peat, although there are an increasing number of peat free nurseries around.

Like cheap clothes and cheap plastic goods, the true cost is not in our pockets, here in the UK, but is in the air we breathe and the disastrous changes in our climate, which worldwide are causing problems on a grand scale. Using homemade compost is best, for both the planet and your pocket.  This can be mixed with good quality topsoil to make your own potting compost, though it is best used as a soil improver or mulch. You can purchase cheap compost bins at a discounted price through your local council, or local upcycling company Lily’s Cottage make plastic-free compost bins from old wooden pallets, saving landfill and reducing transport emission.   They also make planters along with a range of wildlife homes including hedgehog houses and bird-feeders.  Nothing goes to waste!

By Debbie Standen from Pulborough

Debbie Standen