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Save our peatlands - the UK's rainforests!

Bowness Common

You can enjoy peatland at many of our reserves, including Campfield Marsh in Cumbria

Image: Andy Hay

UPDATE: The UK Government's Budget on 23 March means that this campaign is likely to change direction quickly.We will update this page as soon as the outcomes of the Budget are clearer. Watch this space!

Peatland is one of our most precious and endangered resources, yet intensive agriculture, drainage and peat extraction continue to take their toll. Today only 1% of England's pristine lowland peat bog remains intact.

For over two decades, we have been campaigning to protect these vitally important places. They provide habitats for rare bird and insect species including snipe, curlews, large heath butterflies and dragonflies, as well as plants such as carnivorous sundews and butterworts.

Gardening must be greener

Peat extraction to produce compost has contributed to the destruction of 94% of lowland raised bog habitat, a rare and slow-forming habitat, in the UK. We currently use some three billion litres of peat every year in our gardens.

It has been more profitable for compost suppliers to use peat than alternative materials, and there has been the sense amongst gardeners that peat-free composts are not as effective.

Yet garden trials commissioned by the consumer group Which? in March 2010 showed that peat-free composts outperformed the best peat-based counterparts.

Going peat-free would also help us tackle waste and landfill, as peat-free compost is predominantly made up of by-product materials from other industries, such as wood waste and green compost.

The Government must act

Last year's spending review resulted in dramatic reductions to the overall funding for the natural environment. Since then, we have been calling for innovative ways to raise money for conservation in this time of austerity. The upcoming budget provides us with an excellent opportunity do this and to help UK gardeners go peat-free.

A levy on peat compost

The UK Government must show greater strength on this issue, giving consumers and industry real incentives to switch to peat alternatives by introducing a levy onto the sale of peat-based composts.

Amateur gardening accounts for 69% of peat compost used in the UK

A levy on peat compost would increase its price and encourage consumers to switch to the more effective peat-free alternatives. These would remain the same price. This would help create a market where business no longer needs to extract peat from lowland bogs, and could instead focus on investing in alternatives. This in turn would boost UK recycling, and make better use of our waste.

How you can help

Help make sure that peat use in compost is phased out completely by writing to your MP and asking them to contact the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Justine Greening, to call for a levy on peat-based composts to be introduced in the budget on 23 March. Please also ask your MP to send a copy of their letter to Richard Benyon, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs.

Here are some points you may like to include in your letter:

  • Lowland raised peat bogs are vital habitats for rare plant and animal species, and play a significant role in carbon storage. Only 1% of pristine lowland peat remains intact, and we need to protect and restore this precious habitat.
  • Use in compost is the main driver for the peat extraction that destroys lowland bogs. There are many peat-free alternatives available, which are just as effective as their peat-based counterparts. This has been proven by a recent Which? Gardening survey in 2010 and the transition to peat-free by organisations such as the National Trust and Kew Gardens.
  • Extraction of peat for UK use in horticulture causes 630,000 tonnes of CO2, the equivalent to annual emissions from all motorcycles and mopeds on UK roads, to be released into the atmosphere, putting our wildlife at greater risk from the dangers of climate change. These emissions cost the UK £32.5 million per year, and damage our chances of meeting our legal commitments on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Voluntary approaches to phasing out peat composts over the past 15 years have failed and the Government must now intervene to ensure horticulture is peat-free by 2020.
  • A levy should be introduced on retail bags of peat-based compost to incentivise the purchase of sustainable peat-free composts. This would help create a market where business no longer needs to extract peat and it would boost investment in peat-free alternatives.
  • Funds raised from the levy could be put towards restoring sites where peat extraction has destroyed the habitat, or on promoting sustainable management of peatlands elsewhere in the UK where degradation is taking place.

Where do I need to send my e-mail or letter?

Please send your letters as soon as possible to ensure that they reach the Treasury in time for consideration before the budget is announced.

You can find out who your MP is by visiting the Find your MP website using the link on the right of this page. All MPs can be contacted by writing to them at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.

Please also send copies of your letters and any replies to: Ceri Smith, Peat levy campaign, FREEPOST ANG6335, The RSPB, UK Headquarters, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG19 2BR. Alternatively, e-mail campaigns@rspb.org.uk

Thank you for your support. Your efforts make all the difference.

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