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Peat and the environment

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Peat bog Image: Andrea JonesCommercial extraction of peat for use in gardening leads to the destruction of peatlands, which are important for biodiversity, carbon storage and flood risk management.

  • Peatlands occur where waterlogged conditions prevent plants from breaking down completely. The slow build up of this partly decomposed plant material produces peat, typically at a rate of less than 1mm per year.
  • This creates a unique and valuable environment where rare species of plants and animals thrive. Extracting peat destroys these habitats leading to loss of biodiversity.
  • Peatlands act as important stores of carbon; because plants do not decompose completely, the carbon held within them becomes ‘locked’ into the peat. When peat is extracted and used in gardening the stored carbon is released as CO2, a greenhouse gas.
  • Peatlands also play a critical role in the global water cycle. Destruction of peatlands leads to increased risk of flooding.
  • Amateur horticulture accounts for 2million m3 of peat consumption in the UK.
  • Reduction in the use of peat is hampered by a lack of proven and well understood growing media alternatives, especially for seed sowing and certain groups of plants, for example ericaceous plants, and by a low level of public awareness of the impact of peat extraction.
  • References

Defra 2010
Monitoring of the horticultural use of peat and progress towards the UK biodiversity Action Plan target. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, London, pp. 19.

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