Gardens shouldn’t harm the environment - stop being selfish and leave peat in the ground

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We’ve known for too long now that using peat on our gardens is damaging the environment, yet a selfish few refuse to give it up

Very few people, if any, can say their life is 100% sustainable - modern life is geared up to mean it’s virtually impossible to not have a carbon footprint, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take steps to reduce it. For example, while public transport is by far more eco-friendly than driving, with bus services slashed and train travel unreliable as well as eye-wateringly expensive, the only option for many is to own a car. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make changes elsewhere in your life to mitigate those emissions.

One sustainable change the green-fingered among us could make right now is to opt for peat-free compost. Unlike the car conundrum, there are a number of suitable alternatives to choose from, sitting right next to the peat-based compost bags at the local garden centre, so there’s simply no excuse.

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Yet hop into any social media gardening group and you will hear excuses aplenty, namely that peat-free is simply not as good. Let’s pretend that’s true for a second, that means someone is happy to contribute to the destruction of the environment - both the peat bog ecosystems other living things depend on, along with adding carbon to the atmosphere which is killing the entire planet - because the alternative ‘isn’t as good’. Really? Could there be a more selfish statement?

But I also wonder how many have actually tried peat-free composts, and how recently, because they seem to be working okay for the Royal Horticultural Society who are 98% peat-free in their gardens. Gardening guru Monty Don also appears to be making a go of it too - and his garden’s not too shabby. Hell, even a very amateur gardener such as myself has had great success without the use of peat, with a tray of cosmos, echinops and stipa grass seedlings with close to 100% germination rate filling my window sills as I type.

Peat can be an environmental hero - if left where it is. It is a fantastic carbon store and there are charities at work aiming to not only stop the destruction of peatland but also increase what we have to sequester more carbon from the atmosphere. As soon as you dig it up however, it’s an environmental disaster, releasing all of that stored carbon out into the environment.

Willow Silvani tends plants in the Pottager and Cottage gardens at RHS Garden Rosemoor in Devon - the Royal Horticultural Society gardens are 98% peat-free. Picture: PAWillow Silvani tends plants in the Pottager and Cottage gardens at RHS Garden Rosemoor in Devon - the Royal Horticultural Society gardens are 98% peat-free. Picture: PA
Willow Silvani tends plants in the Pottager and Cottage gardens at RHS Garden Rosemoor in Devon - the Royal Horticultural Society gardens are 98% peat-free. Picture: PA | PA

This week, former environment secretary Theresa Villiers presented her proposed Horticultural Peat (Prohibition of Sale) bill in the House of Commons. The bill aims to ban the sale of peat for use in amateur gardening - with some exceptions - by the end of the year.

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It's shameful that peat products are still readily available in 2024 when opposition to extracting peat first took off in the 1990s, but the bill should hopefully go some way to slow demand. However, I have a more speedy suggestion, how about not waiting for a law to pass, taking certain people into peat-free gardening kicking and screaming, and make it a positive step for the environment you have chosen to take today.

While there are many environmental decisions which are much more tricky to tackle, this one’s a no-brainer.

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