Defra’s complete ban on peat in horticulture could take another seven years

  • Last updated: 28 March 2023
Defra has confirmed it will be banning peat use by the professional horticulture sector by 2026 – but with exemptions that could see plug plants contain peat until 2030.

Following months of delays, confusion continues to surround Defra's latest announcement on the peat ban in England.

The latest update, which initially came via an article in Horticulture Week, rather than an official Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' press release, confirmed that production would cease in the professional sector by 2026 - but the department outlined many exemptions that will see peat used right up until 2030.

A Defra spokesperson said: "We've worked with the sector on how and when to extend this ban to the rest of the industry, and have proposed specific technical exemptions to allow time for the horticultural sector to overcome technical barriers to moving away from the use of peat. As our understanding of the technical difficulties improves then this may also include other plant types or production methods where peat cannot be readily replaced. We see a ban on the use of peat in the professional sector by 2030."

"It’s good that gardeners won’t be able to buy bagged peat from 2024, but at the same time they could be buying it unwittingly via shop-bought, peat-grown plug plants"

— Fiona Taylor, Chief Executive, Garden Organic

These exclusions include ‘time-limited exemptions’ for professional growers and wholesalers, and special dispensations for plug plants and mushrooms. Production of young plants in plugs with a maximum volume of 150ml, and the production of edible mushrooms with a peat casing layer of 2cm will be exempt. According to data from the Growing Media Monitor, plug plants and mushroom production make up 42% of all peat used by professional growers in 2021.

The new plans go on to state that the professional sector should retain a general exemption with no specific exemptions until the end of 2026.

Defra said: "This will enable professional horticulture businesses to conduct commercial scale trials to identify suitable peat-free growing media, in particular for challenging plants, allow time for adaptation and replacement of commercial growing systems and to allow plants already started in a peat containing growing media to work their way through the supply chain."

Also excluded are plants that continue to be available to safeguard vulnerable or endangered plant species.

Disappointing and delayed announcement

“While we welcome any announcement that gets us one-step closer to prohibiting peat use – we’re disappointed by the significant delay, number of exemptions and the continued confusion surrounding this latest news,” says Garden Organic's Chief Executive Fiona Taylor.

“Peatlands are running out of time, and we need action now to stop the degradation of this precious eco-system just for the sake of our gardens and garden plants. Gardening should be about giving back to nature, nurturing plant diversity and soil health. But this latest announcement continues to make it a confusing marketplace for gardeners trying to do the right thing. It’s good they won’t be able to buy bagged peat from 2024, but at the same time they could be buying it unwittingly via shop-bought, peat-grown plug plants.”

The Wildlife Trusts estimate that policy failure to stop peat extraction has caused up to 31 million tonnes of CO2 to be released since 1990.

Garden Organic has long campaigned for the end to peat use through its For Peat’s Sake campaign. Our website has numerous resources, advice and factsheets about stopping peat use, using peat free and making your own peat-free compost mixes.

Go to our peat-free hub to find out more.