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Using peat in UK horticulture has a devastating climate impact

31 million tonnes of CO2 could have been released into the atmosphere since 1990, as a direct result of using peat in gardening, new analysis by the Wildlife Trust shows. 

As well as analysing the impacts of peat extraction in the UK, The Wildlife Trusts found that 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.

Despite thirty years of campaigning against the extraction of peat, peat continues to be sold in vast quantities for amateur and professional horticultural use, with huge consequences for nature and climate.

In 2020 alone, nearly 900,000 cubic metres of peat were extracted from UK soils, with a further 1.4 million cubic metres of peat imported from Ireland and the rest of Europe.

A total of just over 2.29 million cubic metres of peat were dug up to be sold in the UK market in 2020, with a small quantity also being exported to other countries.

If peat is left undisturbed, this quantity of peat could have stored approximately 238,000 tonnes of carbon for millennia to come.

However, once peatland habitats are disturbed for extraction, stored carbon becomes carbon dioxide (CO2) and is lost to the atmosphere forever, contributing directly to climate change.

Ailis Watt, peat officer at The Wildlife Trusts, says: ‘These losses are gigantic, irrecoverable and unjustifiable. Peat and the carbon stored within it simply cannot be replenished within human lifetimes. Each time governments dither over whether to ban peat use in horticulture, we risk losing more of this habitat that has taken millennia to develop, as well as losing its huge capacity for carbon storage.

‘Extracting peat is bad for our climate and for wildlife. Peatlands provide habitat for a rich diversity of plants and animals. Migrating birds feed on peatland insects, while snakes and lizards also thrive in these special places. The UK is already one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world and extracting peat destroys complex ecosystems that are vital for nature’s recovery. It has to stop.

‘Investing in peatland restoration whilst allowing extraction to continue is illogical and an inefficient use of public funds.’

The Wildlife Trusts are calling for an immediate ban on the sale and extraction of peat for horticulture, and a ban on importing peat from abroad.

 

 

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