A target for phasing out its use in gardens was missed last year, and campaigners are right to demand action
Peatlands are a type of wetlands ecosystem comprised of unrotted plant material. Covering 3% of the earth’s land surface and ranging from a shallow surface layer to more than 8 metres deep, they are the world’s largest carbon store, holding 550 gigatonnes of carbon – 42% of all carbon sequestered in the ground. In Europe, where they are concentrated in the north and east, they hold five times more carbon than forests. Yet public awareness of peat’s environmental importance is much lower than, for example, the level of interest in trees. There is no novel about peat to compare with Richard Powers’ prize-winning 2018 arboreal epic The Overstory.
Activists are desperate to change that. Britain’s huge number of amateur gardeners, whose numbers swelled during the spring lockdown last year and show no signs of falling back, are enthusiastic users of peat – which still makes up around 50% of all growing matter sold. Last week, a group of conservationists and gardeners wrote to the environment secretary, George Eustice, pointing to the failure of a planned voluntary phaseout that was supposed to end garden centre sales of peat compost last year, and called for a ban.