A PROPOSED ban on the use of peat for gardening has been welcomed by environmental groups but they have called for bolder action from the UK and Welsh governments. 

Under plans out for consultation, the sale of compost containing peat would be phased out in the amateur horticulture sector in Wales and England by the end of this Parliament, to cut carbon emissions and conserve wildlife habitats. 

But a coalition of environmental and nature bodies, while welcoming the proposed ban, say further action is needed and a recommendation from the UK’s independent, statutory Climate Change Committee, for an outright ban should have been adopted. 

A joint statement from 12 groups, which includes Friends of the Earth Cymru, the Snowdonia Society and the RSPB, has said government needs to move faster to bring in tighter controls to proect peatlands, which are the UK’s largest carbon store. 

The statement said: “The Climate Change Committee has said that, to meet our net zero ambitions, we must end the extraction and sale of peat for all horticultural uses across the UK, including in the professional sectors and across imports, by 2023. 

“We are therefore pleased that the UK and Welsh Governments have recognised the importance of keeping our peat in the ground and are taking steps to ban the sale of peat in the retail sector. 

“However, they must move faster and with much greater ambition to make the comprehensive changes necessary to meet the CCC’s target, introducing the proposed ban as quickly as possible and immediately scoping out a rapid path to a complete ban, encompassing trade, exports, imports and the professional sector.” 

READ MORE: Garden revolution needed to make peat-based compost history

Peatlands is a key carbon store – the largest in the UK – and extracting peat for use in horticulture releases carbon emissions, as well as damaging key wildlife habitats, and reducing the landscape’s ability to absorb water and curb flooding. 

While a ban is the preferred option of both the UK and Welsh governments, the consultation also includes alternatives such as a sales charge on bags of compost that contain peat and mandatory labelling detailing the environmental reasons to avoid it. 

Options being put out for consultation also include possible exemptions, for example for scientific uses, and a maximum amount of peat allowed in certain products. 

At present there is no peat extraction in Wales but the Welsh Government says preventing sales of peat products is in line with its Well-being of Future Generations Act commitments to a “globally responsible Wales”. 

The consultation is being carried out by the UK government’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on behalf of both the Welsh and UK governments. 

But the horticultural industry has claimed that neither a ban nor a sales tax would address fundamental problems with the availability of alternatives to peat and called for government support for the sector to make the move away from it. 

Launching the consultation, the UK government said composts with comparable quality to peat-based products were available, such as wood fibre, green compost, wool and coir, or coconut fibre. 

Ministers said curbing peat sales, as well as efforts to restore peatland landscapes, would help towards the UK’s targets to cut climate emissions to zero overall by 2050, known as net zero, and restore nature. 

With much of the peat sold to gardeners in the UK imported from abroad, curbing its use will also protect peat bogs further afield, officials argue. 

Welsh Minister for Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths said: “The protection of our peatlands is an important element of our net zero plans.  

“They are a valued and precious part of our landscape, and play a vital role in capturing carbon.  

“With many alternatives to peat available for amateur gardeners, it is a good time to look at making the shift from using peat in our gardens and to launch this consultation.” 

The Welsh Government has said it also has a five-year plan to restore and protect Welsh peatlands which has benefited from £1.5m investment in its first year. 

READ MORE: Campaigners call on Welsh Government to impose peat ban

The horticulture industry said peat use had fallen to 35 per cent of ingredients in bagged compost sold by garden centres and other retailers, and it was committed to removing it from retail operations by 2025-28 and for professional nursery plant production by 2028-30. 

But with a voluntary target being missed to end its use by amateur gardeners by 2020, set by ministers in 2011, Ailis Watt, from the Wildlife Trusts said government had dragged its heels on the issue for a decade. 

“We need to see an immediate ban on use of peat by individuals and the wider horticulture industry, an immediate cessation of peat extraction in the UK and an immediate ban on import of peat and peat materials. 

“We need to end the use of peat in horticulture entirely, with immediate effect, not wait until 2024 as the Government proposes, if we are to restore these damaged habitats, allow nature to return and enable them to store carbon rather than emit it.” 

READ MORE: National Tree Week claim woodlands can save UK £185m a year

But James Barnes, spokesman for the horticultural industry taskforce, said: “Positive collaboration with government, not an unnecessary ban, unrealistic timescales and threats of yet more taxes is the key to a horticulture sector without peat. 

“An industry-Government partnership would enable UK horticulture to achieve the international competitive-edge and certainty it requires to green our economy. 

“We continue to do everything we can to remove peat, but it needs Government to step up to support this change.” 

The full list of groups who've called for tighter restrictions on peat sales is: National Trust, Plantlife, RSPB, Butterfly Conservation, Friends of the Earth England, Wales & Northern Ireland, For Peat’s Sake, Garden Organic, Peat-free April, Snowdonia Society, Sustain – the alliance for better food and farming, Wales Environment Link and Wildlife & Countryside Link.

Additional reporting by Emily Beament, PA Environment Correspondent

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