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  • Writer's pictureRachel Matthews

It's time to change your view on peatlands. It could make a difference to the climate

Peat has been making headlines recently. Seemingly innocuous, as for many it is simply the soil used by gardeners for their plant pots and borders, but it is actually garnering criticism for its impact on the environment.

Supermarkets have pledged to stop selling it by the end of this year, and by 2024 gardeners will be banned from purchasing it under new Government plans, all in a bid to tackle climate change and protect wildlife.

What actually is peat – and what’s the big deal?

Peat is the surface organic layer of a soil from plant material that has decomposed over thousands of years, and it is of huge importance to our Earth.

A huge amount of wildlife inhabit peatlands, it has a role in water management, as it can store up to 20 times its weight in water, but importantly it also acts as a carbon store.

Peat holds more carbon that Britain, France and Germany’s forests combined, when it is in wet and healthy conditions, helping to keep carbon locked away. However, when in poor conditions peat soils release CO2 back into the atmosphere, including carbon that has been accumulating for hundreds of years.

This happens as a result of certain practices which damage peatland. Examples of this include when peat is extracted from bogs to provide gardeners with soil, but also through drainage, which dries out the soils. The land may also be farmed or afforested and as a result of these practices around 80% of the UK’s 3 million hectares of peatland are currently considered to be in a degraded state, meaning that they emit greenhouse gases equivalent to half of the country’s agricultural output.

What action is being made – and is it enough?

On top of the Government’s plan to stop sale of peat by 2024, the Government has also planned to restore 35,000 hectares of degraded peatland by 2025.

However, campaigners have argued this is not enough – and not soon enough.

Government advisors, the Climate Change Committee, have argued that restoration of this land is essential to achieving net zero carbon emissions. But The Wildlife Trust have said that to meet these recommendations we need to be restoring about 10 times that amount of land. They say this would include all SSSIs – most of which are not currently in good condition.

While the move to ban its sale in supermarkets, has also been branded as too late, with it not coming in to force for a further three years. However, the Government first raised the prospect of banning peat-based compost 11 years ago but only a voluntary basis, and calls were ignored by the horticulture industry, so it is finally a step in the right direction.

These policies have been made as solutions to tackle climate change, forming part of the 25 Year Environment Plan, and were announced at the same time as the England Trees Action Plan, a bill the Peat Action Plan can work in tandem with – so with the right approach these could be steps to delivering improvements for both the climate and the environment.


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