Devastating climate impact of peat in UK horticulture

  • Last updated: 6 October 2022

New analysis by The Wildlife Trusts has calculated the shocking impacts of extracting peat for use in horticulture.

Here are the numbers

  • They say that as much as 31 million tonnes of CO2 could have been released into the atmosphere since 1990, as a direct result of using peat in gardening, and its use by professional growers of fruit, vegetables, and plants
  • In 2020 alone, nearly 900,000 cubic metres of peat were extracted from UK soil and a further 1.4 million cubic metres of peat was imported from Ireland and the rest of Europe.
  • Peat extracted for horticulture in 2020 alone could release up to 880,000 tonnes of CO2 – equivalent in emissions to driving to the moon and back a whopping 4,600 times.

According to the Wildlife Trust “ Waiting another two years until 2024 to ban peat use could add more than 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 to our atmosphere – roughly equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of more than 214,000 UK residents.”

They go on to say “the UK ‘offshores’ most of its peatland emissions and damage to wildlife to the countries who dig peat up to sell it in the UK. Currently, emissions from these imports are not counted in the UK's greenhouse gas emissions figures. Peat continues to be sold in vast quantities for amateur and professional horticultural use, with huge consequences for nature and the climate.”

“These losses are gigantic, irrecoverable and unjustifiable… extracting peat is bad for our climate and for wildlife.”

Garden Organic has been campaigning to stop peat extraction since the 1970s. Various voluntary ‘initiatives’ imposed by the government on the horticultural industry have failed. Only now is a peat ban in sight – with the present government arguing for peat-based potting composts to be banned from 2024. And plants that are grown in peat to be banned from 2030.

We feel this is too little, too late. Recognising the climate emergency that the world faces, the government’s own advisors (the Climate Change Committee) recommend that peat should cease to be extracted from 2023.
See here for further information on the issues surrounding peat. And here for advice on peat-free growing.