28 June 2021
In a letter to major retailers, 27 environmental charities are warning that sales of peat-based compost are damaging nature and contributing to climate change, and should be ended within the next 12 months. They are challenging businesses to play their part in protecting wildlife and our climate, by committing this summer to ending peat-compost sales, before the UK-hosted global climate talks this November.In 2011 the Government set voluntary targets for retailers to end sales of peat-compost to the public by 2020, but 10 years on retailers are still failing to act. In 2019 peat still made up over 40% by volume of the growing media sold in the retail sector, a huge volume of UK compost sales with the amateur gardening sector making up c.70% of horticultural peat use. A survey of retailers by The Wildlife Trusts has shown that since the 2020 voluntary target to end peat-compost sales was spectacularly missed, only Co-op (which now only sells peat-free bagged compost), Waitrose and Travis Perkins have committed to action this year.
Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: “If garden retailers are serious about their responsibility to tackle climate change, they will stop selling peat compost right now. There is no time left to spare and there are no excuses left to stall with.
“The Wildlife Trusts’ petition proves there is huge public support for a ban on the sale of these planet destroying peat products. We challenge retailers to be ambitious and step up to the challenge as soon as possible - rather than waiting until they are forced by the Government to stop sales of this outdated and unnecessary product.”
Jenny Hawley, Plantlife’s Policy Manager, said: “Garden retailers should lead the way in ditching ‘dirty’ peat in favour of greener, peat-free gardening. Healthy peatlands are irreplaceable carbon stores and precious havens for a superb variety of mosses and wildflowers such as bog asphodel, cuckooflower, marsh saxifrage and sundews. Yet commercial extraction can destroy over 500 years’ worth of peat growth in a single year. If we’re to get serious about tackling the climate and nature emergency, we must keep peat in the ground, not the growbag.”
Martin Spencer, Co-op’s Buyer for Home and Leisure, said: “We want to make it easier for our Members, customers and communities to make small changes in their everyday lives which, together, add up to making a big difference to our environment. We are committed to reducing the environmental impact of our products, and we now only sell peat-free bagged compost in our stores as we continue to work to look for new and collaborative ways of working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – something which is imperative if we are to have a healthy, sustainable natural environment to pass on to future generations.”
There is huge public support for ending the sale of peat-based compost with a recent petition from the Wildlife Trusts attracting 30,000 signatures. YouGov research for Wildlife and Countryside Link in January revealed that most British consumers want to see peat-based compost banned. Only 5% oppose the banning of peat-based compost, with 47% supportive, 22% neutral and 26% unsure. Over 65s are most supportive with almost 6 in 10 (59%) backing a ban (this is important to note as 65-74 year-olds also have the highest spend on gardening products).
Peatlands are the most carbon-dense land-based habitats in the world, and the UK’s biggest carbon sink. But damage to our peatlands from horticulture, farming and forestry practices is causing the release of an estimated 23 million tonnes of carbon every year from UK peatlands, making it vital to restore and protect our peatlands as part of UK action on climate change.  Peatlands are also unique habitats home to rare wildlife like the golden plover, hen harrier and large heath and swallowtail butterflies. Protecting our peatlands protects the homes of our most vulnerable birds, butterflies, plants and other wildlife.
Alternatives to peat-based compost are increasingly available to retailers, including coir dust (from coconut husks), wood fibre and bar, and many gardeners can also make their own high-quality compost at home. The Government committed in its recent Peat Action Plan to consult in 2021 on legislation to ban peat-based compost measures, but retailers can, and should, commit to ending peat compost sales before they are required to by law.
Notes to Editors:
Nature coalition welcomes major milestone toward wildlife recovery
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