19th Feburary 2022

Peter Seabrook makes peat plea

17 November 2021, by Matthew Appleby Horticulture Week

Garden writer Peter Seabrook has met with a prominent politician to make the case for horticultural peat use in the UK.

The late Peter Seabrook

Peter Seabrook has been lobbying at the Houses of Parliament to research the situation concerning the use of peat in commercial horticulture and gardens. In May 2021, the Government’s England Peat Action Plan proposed a ban on bagged retail sales of peat by 2024 and all use in horticulture by 2029.

Horticulture Week columnist Seabrook said: “I was staggered to find not one of our trade associations has put forward the case for continuing to use sphagnum moss peat from raised bogs. Further, no individual, save myself, has explained the arguments to continue using peat, where there are no satisfactory alternatives and how the proposed ban will increase the release of CO2, decrease the sequestration of carbon, put many people out of work and do permanent harm to the fine UK Gardening reputation.

“The pro-peat side of the argument was welcomed by Parliament and seen as sensible and logical. Even the chair of The All Party Gardening and Horticulture Group [Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger] told me he has received no lobbying from the industry putting the case for peat, even though he has the Somerset Levels in his constituency!

“The proposed situation can be changed, it requires urgent, mass lobbying of MPs and as our trade associations have done nothing, are doing nothing and are impotent, grass roots voices have to be raised, if we are to avoid becoming the laughing stock of European growers and gardeners.”

Seabrook gave nine reasons for not banning peat:

“Banning peat for horticulture is like expecting carpenters to build without wood. It will lead to the reduction in home food growing and reduce the number of home gardeners.

“Special dispensation should be given for the use of sphagnum moss peat, from raised bogs, for mushroom casing; seed, cuttings and small pot plant cultivation composts.

“Peat for these compost uses could sell at a premium with the additional money invested in paludiculture, to restore bogs and make such peat usage renewable and sustainable.

“After 40 years investment and research there are still no acceptable alternatives to peat.

“Without peat to case mushrooms home production would go to Eastern Europe, with the loss of businesses, employment and even more food imported from abroad. Similarly without fine grade peat to fill cell trays used to raise seedlings and cuttings, most, if not all, of this UK production would go to Holland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal and Israel where the peat use will continue.

“Peat-free growing media, is unavailable in sufficient quantities to meet current demands and in most cases their uses are more damaging to the environment.

“Wood fibres and coir in potting composts need more regular watering and additional nitrates, which in addition to the greater use of fossil fuel in their provision add to nitrate run-off in drainage water. Early trial results indicate that where wood fibres are used up to 25% in composts, to reduce peat, the additional nitrates needed in base fertilisers lead to more rapid breakdown of the peat and greater release of CO2 than the use of 100% peat.

“Widely varying recipes used for peat-free composts for gardeners are giving unacceptable growth and deterring homeowners from growing their own. While commercial growers have the skills to adapt the different watering and feeding required for peat-free potting composts, they also have the advantage of a standard recipe coming in from one supplier. When the home owner goes out to buy peat-free potting composts every brand is likely to be different and there are even changes within a given brand as the supply of ingredients changes. Peat-free composts with their higher base fertiliser content have a much shorter shelf life.

“The use of peat as recommended in sphagnum moss peat, from raised bogs will reduce the release of CO2 and add to carbon sequestration in soils. Every seedling and cutting raised will absorb CO2 and woody plants tie up carbon, in the case of trees, shrubs and conifers holding much more carbon than any loss from peat harvesting may cause. Home owners staying home gardening and growing some of their own food, are acting much more environmentally caring than those who abandon their plots and either drive or fly away on holiday.”

18th Feburary 2022

Horticulture Week

Responsibly Produced Peat ‘win-win for climate and horticulture’

“Peat is used as an ingredient for growing media. It has unique properties that ensure reliability and security of food-production, forestry and gardening. The horticulture industry has introduced policies aimed at reducing emissions and impact on climate and biodiversity of growing media. In addition, the sector is actively exploring the availability of peat replacement materials with similar properties and cost.

Where peat is required as a growing media ingredient it is essential that it is harvested and managed responsibly, and peatlands are restored to become functional, carbon-storing bogs again. To this end, over the past decade, Foundation Responsibly Produced Peat (RPP) has developed and administered a certification standard in the European region for peatland selection and management during and after peat extraction.

Currently, around 35% of European peat for growing media is RPP-certified. Applying the RPP criteria has enormous benefits for peat extraction, as well as for the future functioning of peatlands.

RPP preserves biodiversity allowing selection of degraded peatlands only, preventing negative impacts on adjacent areas with High Conservation Value. Obligatory monitoring and mitigation measures have been implemented at multiple sites across Europe enabling them to obtain the RPP certificate.

In addition, the best possible after-use implementation is mandatory, with a strong preference for a wet after-use to deliver maximum environmental benefits, including climate change mitigation and biodiversity restoration. Full stakeholder consultation, including environmental NGOs, and local communities, is an essential part of the selection process for both the degraded peatland and its after-use.

Society is facing major challenges in mitigating climate change. Restoration of degraded peatlands can contribute highly to the objective of reducing carbon-emissions. A degraded peatland is a carbon source, while an intact peatland ecosystem functions as a carbon sink. The peat industry has, in cooperation with scientists, developed much knowledge and expertise to successfully restore areas after peat extraction. It has been doing this for many years. The positive experiences from Canada and Germany are now being applied throughout Europe and this knowledge is necessary to realise the high ambitions in, for example, the EU Green Deal. The peat industry is in the position to initiate large-scale restoration of degraded peatlands. The RPP-standard requires that the after-use plan is prepared early in the peat extraction procedure. This offers an optimal guarantee for successful recovery of the ecosystem and thus the restoration of the carbon sink and a more effective carbon sequestering system than before peat extraction.

The most important form of after-use in Germany, for example, is re-wetting. The aim is to establish peat moss (Sphagnum) and other typical peatland plants, such as cotton grass.

By the end of 2020, the RPP-certified company Klasmann-Deilmann had rewetted a total of 4,608 ha in Germany.

Restoration of degraded peat bogs can be accelerated by introducing typical raised bog vegetation such as the peat-forming hummock mosses (Sphagnum spp.) and applying carefully adapted water management techniques. Klasmann-Deilmann enhanced this innovative process that leads to establishment of climate neutral peat moss areas within five years and significantly accelerates the process to turn C-sources into C-sinks.

In certain cases, after-use projects go beyond the official requirements to gain new knowledge on options for peatland restoration. Ground- breaking findings have been made in this connection by Sphagnum-farming projects.

The German peat production company Morcellator Moorkultur Ramsloh (Mokura) has been carrying out research on Sphagnum farming since 2004. This RPP-certified company is investigating whether this type of paludiculture offers promising opportunities for application in growing media, and the use as donor material for restoration. Several universities have partnered with Mokura to collect hard data for studies on vegetation, biodiversity, nutrients and greenhouse gas emissions. This is a good example of a long-term fruitful cooperation between industry and science. Challenges such as finding the best harvesting technology and frequency will take additional years of research time.”

#RPP is a multi-stakeholder organisation whose stakeholders come from the peat and growing media industry, environmental NGOs and science. This multi-stakeholder involvement is reflected in the RPP Board and the Committee of Experts of RPP. The Committee of Experts consists of specialists in peatland management, environmental impact assessment, certification, regulation and substrate (production). The CoE supervises the inspection procedures, maintains the certification scheme, and issues binding advice on certification to the Board. The assessments for certification include field inspection and are performed by independent inspectors with extensive peatland expertise.

RPP aims to becoming mainstream in the EU with a standard that makes responsibly produced peat available and recognisable for the horticulture market. The foundation tries to achieve this by involving stakeholders, stimulating and facilitating certification of companies,. continuously developing and improving the certification scheme and promoting ‘responsibly produced peat’ among target groups.

18th Feburary 2022

Horticulture Week

Bunny Guinness backs Seabrook peat arguments in face of social media ‘demonisation’

Garden designer Guinness, writing in the Telegraph, said: “I am immensely concerned that Defra is planning to ban retail peat use by 2024 and all use by 2029 – a far-reaching decision for the horticulture industry – based on muddled thinking. Social media is demonising the use of peat, but this ban will be hugely detrimental to the planet, to gardeners and to the horticultural industry.”

Guinness says a ban, planned in Defra a consultation that ends on 18 March, would put the UK industry at a disadvantage against Europe and that there is not enough peat-free material to meet demand anyway.

Guinness signed the late Peter Seabrook’s open letter, first published in Horticulture Week, which called  for “a much more open debate on the peat in horticulture issue with both for and against statements up for discussion”. They say sphagnum moss peat should not be used for soil improvement but from raised bogs “has been and remains the best constituent for seed, cuttings and potting composts”.

The Seabrook plea adds: “Moss peat use in seed and potting composts is currently, by all available measures, an environmentally friendly growing media and in most uses, results in the absorption of CO2, plus the sequestration of carbon in woody growth and the soil. Cut-away raised peat bogs can be restored, where water levels are raised and harvested areas re-seeded with the correct species of sphagnum. Newly planted sphagnum grows rapidly, laying down 5-7cms per year, which make peat a sustainable and renewable resource (e.g. Beadamoss). Restoring cut-away bogs and the rapid growth of seeded sphagnum absorbs carbon dioxide in great quantity. Most current peat-free composts need much higher rates of base fertilizer (up to four times more) to replace plant foods absorbed by breaking down fibres.  They also need more regular watering (at least double), which in turn leads to nitrates being lost in drainage water.  Peat has excellent water retention qualities and holds onto base fertilizers to feed plants.

  • “The growth of some plants is not as good in many of the peat-free composts currently available and this includes all the ericaceous subjects, namely azaleas, camelia, heathers and rhododendrons.
  • “Air dried peat can be compressed and is light in weight, so uses thinner polythene in wrappers and less fossil fuel to transport.
  • “Sphagnum moss peat is sterile, clean to handle, pest and pollutant free.  Unlike some of the peat free alternatives, where there is a risk of introducing weedkillers and plant diseases.
  • “Peat free composts are made up to widely differing recipes, so it is very difficult for home gardeners to adapt their watering and feeding practices when the compost mixes are no longer standard.  Where they experience poor growth and failures, we risk losing the attraction for people to stay at home gardening and growing some of their own food.”

Robert Hillier, Adrian and Jason Bloom, Steve McCurdy, Jim McColl, Guinness, Andrew Tokely, Robert and Paul Wharton, Jo Davey, Neil and Nicci Gow, Ken Cox, Paul Cooling, Christine Walkden, Alan Sargent, Graham Richardson and six company directors, Mike Smith, Tim Kerley, Derek Jarman, Steve and Val Bradley, Simon Crawford, Douglas Wilson, Garry Coward Williams plus Sir Brian Donohoe.

In March’s Horticulture Week, we publish an article by Dr Jack Rieley, vice president of the International Peatland Society and chair of its Scientific Advisory Board.He said in 2012 the area allocated for peat extraction in England was estimated to be 920 ha of which 350 ha was on hold pending the outcome of a public inquiry. It is now less than 500 hectares. The annual CO 2 emissions attributable to this area extracted to a depth of 20 cm is less than 200,000 tonnes. The total UK emissions for 2010 were 590.4 Mt and, if 90% of these were from England, the emissions from peat extraction in England amounted to only 0.04%.