A new survey shows that only one of 20 leading garden retailers contacted by The Wildlife Trusts reported that it would eliminate peat from its shelves this year – and the survey reveals an overall lack of ambition by retailers to set targets to end peat sales.
Last year, the voluntary target set by the Government to end sales of peat composts to amateur gardeners was missed.
This year the Government will decide if new legislation is needed to end peat use in the horticultural sector – but there is still no sign of its long-awaited peat strategy.
The Wildlife Trusts are now calling for an immediate end to sales of peat compost – further delay will cause continued destruction of peatlands worldwide.
Calls to end peat use began over 30 years ago when people began to realise that peatlands are priceless – recognising them as precious places for wildlife, and more recently as habitats which capture and store carbon if managed well.
Some retailers are doing notably better in moving away from peat than others: of the 11 out of 20 retailers that responded to the survey, all now offer peat-free composts as part of their range, and none sell soil improvers or mulch containing peat.
Travis Perkins and Wickes were the only two retailers to declare an end-date for peat sales – Travis Perkins by this year, and Wickes by 2025.
But while a further few plan to end peat sales in the future, no dates have been specified and others have no clear commitments at all. Just four reported stocking ranges of peat-free plants.
Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says: “Our survey shows that most retailers’ approach to the voluntary ban on peat sales has been woeful – even though the industry has been aware of the problem for decades.
“The time for voluntary agreements is over – the sale of peat must end now.
“Countless promises have been broken, and targets missed with the result that precious peatland habitats are still being unnecessarily destroyed in the name of gardening.
“Peatlands are vital wildlife habitats and it’s absolutely crucial that they remain intact to help us tackle climate change.
“The Government can ensure that these important carbon stores function as nature intended by banning peat sales now.
“Only one leading retailer – Travis Perkins – is planning to eliminate peat from its shelves by 2021, whilst growers like Hillier demonstrate that you can produce compost and grow high-quality plants without peat.
“These retailers are to be congratulated, but we now need Government to make the rest follow their lead. The time for delay and excuses is over.”
The Wildlife Trusts’ survey found:
n Around 90 per cent of Travis Perkins’ compost sales were peat-free in 2020 and the retailer is planning to go 100 per cent peat-free during 2021. Wickes plans to phase out peat by 2025. These were the only two in the survey who set a date for ending peat sales.
n B&Q, Hillier, and the Blue Diamond group of garden centres said they were committed to phasing out peat completely but gave no date.
n Asda, Lidl and others have set themselves targets to reduce peat sales, but not yet to end them. Asda will remove peat from their own-brand products by 2030.
n Four retailers stock peat-free plants: B&Q, Blue Diamond group, Hillier and Asda.
n Hillier’s tree production is already peat-free, and the company is aiming for production of all other plants across their nurseries to be peat-free for 2022.
n Of those who gave details of their peat-free items, all are offering at least one peat-free compost, and as products containing peat are usually cheaper to buy, several are price-matching these so that eco-conscious customers are not disadvantaged.
Last year B&Q launched its new peat-free compost made with coir and other ingredients.
Hillier garden centres also introduced its own peat-free compost, and will be selling ‘Bloomin’ Amazing’, the by-product from an anaerobic digestion plant that provides eco-friendly heat, gas and electricity to 56,000 homes in Dorset. Wickes is launching a new peat-free product this year.
Blue Diamond stores stock 22 different peat-free growing media products, some of which are trials of new items at selected stores.
Half of the retailers contacted did not reply, and some that did respond were unable to answer all questions.
Ten years ago, the Government set a voluntary target for the horticulture sector to end sales to gardeners by 2020 and to end professional use of peat, for example, in plant growing, by 2030.
As this approach has failed, The Wildlife Trusts now believe that retailers should
end consumer peat compost sales immediately and the target for professional growers should be brought forward to
Monitoring showed that in 2019, peat still made up over 40 per cent by volume of the growing media sold in the retail sector despite the 2020 target, whilst total peat use in horticulture (retail, professional and export) stood at over 2 million cubic metres.
Investment in alternatives is required to help retailers move away from peat, and a ‘Responsible Sourcing Scheme’ has been established to ensure that alternatives don’t come with their own eco-problems.
Peat-free composts are now more widely available than ever and many give excellent results, with good advice also available on making your own compost at home.
This means that although peat extraction is by no means the only cause of damage to our peatlands, it is one of the easiest to prevent.
The Wildlife Trusts ask gardeners to show the Government that people care by taking a ‘peat free pledge’ at wildlifetrusts.org/ban-sale-peat and urge everyone to check information on packaging to ensure that garden purchases are free of peat.
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