Growing without peat

Tuesday 9 November 2021

We have joined the IUCN COP26 Peat Pavilion to talk delegates and negotiators about our work and why protecting and restoring peatland is vital to the UK's response to the nature and climate emergency.

The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Peatland Pavilion at COP26 is showcasing the global significance of peatlands in tackling climate change and the critical role that restoration of these wild places for reversing carbon and wildlife loss.

You can take a virtual tour of the Peat Pavilion. 

While negotiations continue in Glasgow there is something you can do today - join our pledge to give up peat in your garden.

We need to adapt, and if this means the plants you are choosing absolutely need peat as a growing medium to flourish, which is doubtful, then simply don’t choose those plants or accept that they won’t grow quite as well. Never use peat.

Many people are not aware that the compost they are buying may contain peat. Or, for that matter, why peat is used in the first place.

In essence the role of peat in bags of compost is to hold water and provide a good airy structure for growing plants. Peat itself is made from decomposed organic matter formed over thousands of years in places that are naturally high in rainfall – our peatlands. With its water retaining quality it is the natural equivalent of a huge sponge! When mixed with mineral rich material it makes for a good growing medium and has been used for several decades, particularly with the boom in the gardening industry.

But this has come at a huge cost. Peat is a limited resource that takes millennia to develop, and it’s very valuable. It is one of the world’s most important stores of carbon – more important area by area than our rainforests. And the peatlands themselves support a unique range of wildlife. Plundering this resource for our gardens in the nature and climate emergency just has to stop.

The trouble is, giving up isn’t necessarily straightforward!

First – it’s often not clear if compost has peat in it. And if people are new to gardening, it’s easy just to go and grab the nearest bag that will no doubt be stacked up in an alluring pile up front in the garden centre. But check the label. If it has peat listed, put it back. And don’t be fooled by bags that are labelled “organic” because they may contain peat too. If you can’t find any information on the bag just don’t buy it!

Second, there’s the old “well, just one bag of potting compost for the seedlings surely isn’t a problem” argument. No, we all have responsibility – two thirds of the peat used in the UK is bought by gardeners who probably think the same.

Third, “where can I get peat alternatives?”. Here’s a real job for gardeners to help with – if it’s not immediately obvious if a garden centre or DIY store stocks peat free – ask a manager about it, and have the conversation about how important it is. The more people who demand it, the more places will sell it.

Then there’s the “the plants don’t grow as well in the alternatives”. This was dealt with above. It’s probably not true, according to the experts, but this really boils down to “if it really needs peat, grow something else that doesn’t”. Remember, as the climate changes, we should be growing plants that are suitable for our gardens and that don’t draw on precious resources.

So, an action we can all take to play our part in tackling the nature and climate emergency is to call for a ban on peat sales in the UK.

So please join us and pledge to give up using peat now in our #forpeatssake campaign. Find out all about it here.

Join us in person or virtually through #MyClimateAction as we make sure decision makers hear your voice during COP26.

Last Updated: Tuesday 25 January 2022

Tagged with: Country: UK Topic: Campaigns Topic: Climate change