We need a robust horticultural strategy if government is serious about restoring peatlands
Defra has announced that all sales of peat to amateur gardeners in England will be banned by 2024. We welcome the introduction of the ban on the domestic use of peat in compost, which can’t come too soon as this accounts for nearly 80% of the peat used in UK horticulture.
However, this is really just a first step – we urgently need to improve the affordability and availability of peat-free alternatives at scale ahead of a ban for the professional horticulture sector. The Soil Association pioneered peat reduction in horticulture through our higher organic standards and has led research to develop suitable alternatives for the sector – most recently as part of the Organic-PLUS project - but a total ban will require significantly more investment in ongoing research.
It is also important to highlight that the extraction of peat for the creation of compost is not the only issue the industry faces. Most peatland soils across the UK are severely degraded due to drainage and damaging farming practices. This is a huge problem in lowland peatlands, especially the Fens in Eastern England.
While the Fens represent less than 4% of the country’s farmed landscape, they produce a considerable proportion of the country’s key crops, including a third of all our fresh vegetables.
If the government is serious about restoring our peatlands, we need a robust horticultural strategy, as well as a national land use framework that helps support the development of horticulture across the country. This would enable the wider restoration of our peatlands without weakening the resilience of our local food systems.