Sales of peat compost to gardeners will be banned to tackle climate change
- Credit: Neil Didsbury
Garden centres will be banned from selling peat-based compost by 2024 under government plans to limit carbon emissions and tackle the climate crisis.
The measures, which also include moves to make fenland farming more sustainable, aim to protect the country's peatlands - our largest land-based store of carbon. They are also home to rare wildlife and can protect against flooding.
But only 13pc of England's 1.4m hectares of peatlands - which range from upland bogs to rich productive farmland in the East Anglian fens - are in a near-natural state.
The government says its new peat action plan aims to protect and restore degraded, drained, grazed, forested and farmed peatland to stop it leaking carbon into the atmosphere.
As well as work to restore upland peat, the plan acknowledges that "significant changes" are needed in how lowland peat is managed.
It warns that conventional agricultural production on drained peatland "is inherently unsustainable" - although these lowland areas also help manage water to prevent flooding as well as providing land for food crops.
A new taskforce on lowland agricultural peat has been set up to look at measures such as wet farming or "paludiculture" which involves crops that prefer growing in waterlogged soils.
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That could include growing sphagnum moss, a plant which can itself be used as an alternative to peat compost for horticulture.
But a key part of the strategy is ending the sale of peat-based products for amateur gardeners, and phasing it out in horticulture more widely - recognising that a voluntary approach has not worked.
One Norfolk firm which is championing the use of non-peat alternatives is Plantgrow, based near Attleborough, which won the Breaking Boundaries category at this year's EDP Norfolk Business Awards.
The company, run by a farming family, handles around 120,000 tonnes of rye, lucerne and maize feedstock per year to generate green energy through an anaerobic digestor - with the by-product digestate used to make a natural fertiliser.
The firm aims to double that tonnage over the next five years, as it anticipates a huge increase in demand from people seeking alternatives to peat-based composts.
General manager Daniel Suggitt said: "The massive amount of peat compost being sold is a big problem for the atmosphere and for wildlife.
"Peat bogs get drained before they are mined, which emits a lot of greenhouse gases, and they completely lose their biodiversity of rare birds, dragonflies and plants.
"People don't realise that when they buy peat compost. In this day and age when we need to be adding to our biodiversity, the selling of peat has to stop."