Peat accounted for less than 30% of compost sold to gardeners in the UK in 2021, a horticulture industry report has shown.
The latest annual figures show retail use of peat – in bags of compost sold to customers in garden centers and supermarkets – fell from 35.5% of total compost and soil conditioners in 2020 to 29.8% in 2021.
Figures for 2021 were also down on 2019 levels – after the shutdown led to an increase in gardening activity in 2020 during the pandemic.
Around 1.02 million cubic meters of peat in compost were sold last year, compared to 1.31 million in 2019, when it accounted for 41.5% of the total sales of growing media, and down from 1.52 million in 2020.
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Wood-based materials, mainly fibers derived from wood chips, overtook peat to make up 30% of the total, according to the annual growing media monitor led by the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) and the Growing Media Association.
In the professional horticulture sector, where it is used for growing bedding plants and nurseries, fruit, herbs, salad and vegetable seedlings, peat fell from 62.3% to 51.7% of total growing media.
The horticulture industry said the figures showed it was making dramatic progress in voluntarily phasing out peat, and called on the government to support efforts to find alternatives to the product, rather than introducing its proposed ban on the sale of peat compost by 2024.
But environmental campaigners have repeatedly called for an immediate ban on its use by amateur gardeners and the wider industry to protect the climate and nature.
Peatlands are an important carbon store – the largest in the UK – and peat extraction releases carbon emissions, as well as damaging important wildlife habitats and reducing the landscape’s ability to absorb water and mitigate flooding.
The report showed that the largest source of peat is from Ireland, where new regulations have come in which severely limit the extraction of peat, followed by the UK, and a smaller proportion comes from other EU countries.
James Barnes, Chairman of the HTA, said: “These findings show that our industry is making dramatic and effective progress to voluntarily reduce the use of peat, and that industry-led initiatives are already making great strides.
To allow us to accelerate this progress, we urgently need the government to devote its energies to addressing the barriers to alternatives rather than legislating a target that the industry is well on its way to meeting.
James Barnes, Horticultural Trades Association
– We have committed to removing peat from compost in the retail trade as early as 2025, and we continue to work with the government to find pragmatic solutions for a transition to peat-free products.
“However, to allow us to accelerate this progress, we urgently need the Government to devote its energies to addressing the barriers to alternatives rather than legislating a target that the industry is well on its way to meeting.”
The figures show that there was a total of around 1.69 million cubic meters of turf used across the retail and professional sectors, including exports, in 2021, making up 35.5% of growing media.
That was down from 2.29 million cubic meters in 2020, which made up 41%, and 2.1 million cubic meters in 2019, when it made up 47.6% of the growing media.
Ali Morse, head of water policy for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “Peat use increased during 2020 – so while it is positive to see a decrease in the percentage of peat used in horticulture last year, we need to stop using peat much sooner.
“Over a million cubic meters were sold to gardeners last year.
“Peat fields are the largest carbon stores we have on land, but far too many of these precious sites have been dug up for growing plants.
– It is crucial that the government supports the horticulture industry to end the extraction and use of peat as soon as possible. There is simply no time to lose.”