Climate-concerned gardeners, scientists and conservationists have launched a campaign calling upon the Welsh Government to ban the use of peat by 2023.

The move comes as UK environment secretary George Eustice announced earlier this month that amateur gardeners in England will be banned from purchasing peat by 2024.

However, campaigners in Wales say those measures don’t go far enough and are urging the Welsh Government to “lead the way” by announcing a complete ban on the use of peat in all growing media and across gardening and horticulture as a whole.

A petition has been launched on the Senedd website, with naturalists such as TV presenter Iolo Williams already lending support.

The planet’s peatlands are of great importance because of their ability to store vast amounts of carbon. Peatlands take thousands of years to form in nature but they are being drained and mined globally at an astounding rate in order to produce garden compost.

In November 2020 the Welsh Government ushered in the first national programme for peatland restoration. It set out a five-year plan with the goal of protecting and managing our peatland environments in order to reverse habitat loss and poor condition.

However, no mention was made of banning the sale of peat in shops, which is overwhelmingly imported here from the Republic of Ireland and other EU countries.

Jake Rayson, a garden designer based in Newcastle Emlyn in Carmarthenshire, has launched a petition on the Senedd website and vows that the group’s campaigning won’t stop there.

“We are very encouraged that Wales has its first ever Minister for Climate Change in the wake of the elections earlier this month. That gives us great hope,” he said.

“Protecting and restoring our own Welsh peatlands is vital, of course. But really, what we’re talking about is ensuring that we are not mining and importing peat from other countries just so that we can grow flowers and cucumbers. This merely shifts the problem elsewhere and we need to take responsibility.

“This is the ideal opportunity for the Welsh Government to take an environmental lead yet again and to show Westminster how it’s done. The UK Government says a lot of the right things and makes a lot of the right noises but it has fallen short on any proper action on peat, and that’s been going on for well over a decade.

“The peat ban for England is only for the consumer market, so peat will still be allowed in professional horticulture. Wales needs to take a separate and principled stance on this.”

“It’s all very well reducing our own carbon footprint but how can it possibly make any sense to revitalise our own peatlands while mining and destroying them in other countries? And the ongoing destruction of global peatlands is a huge problem for us all.

“A peat ban is needed now before it’s too late.”

A report this month by the British Ecological Society described peatlands as “superheroes of the natural world”.

READ MORE

Dr Christian Dunn of Bangor University, and lead author of the report’s Peatlands chapter, told the media when the report was published: “If the UK is serious about cutting its carbon emissions, it must get serious about peatlands.

“Over the centuries, there have been a variety of pressures on our peatlands. They’ve been turned over for agriculture, overgrazed, drained, burnt, polluted, just basically trashed.

“Every time you buy a bag of compost from peat, a bog or a fen has been destroyed.”

He went on to urge consumers to shun peat-based compost.

Lynne Bartlett is a forest gardener near Treffynnon in Flintshire and supports the ban on peat in Wales but says there will be challenges ahead.

“Most gardeners still buy plants from garden centres or buy compost for seed germination. It’s not easy for everyone to find compost without it,” she said.

“I am fortunate to have access to free soil-improver provided by Flintshire County Council. This is created from the garden waste which the council collects from households. I was surprised that this didn’t happen in every county in Wales.

“I wonder if a total ban of peat compost in Wales would be more acceptable if it were balanced by the availability of free soil improver in every county. I also wonder if it were feasible for counties to keep some soil improver a little longer, so that, after a little more worm activity, it could be sold as compost and help to fill the gap on the market if peat products were banned.”

The National approached the Welsh Government for a response to the campaign to ban peat in Wales. However, the statement given by a spokesperson made no specific mention of a potential ban.

“Our environment is central to decision making in Wales and we are committed to the continued decarbonisation of all sectors of our economy and their supply chains,” it said.

“Peatlands extend over an estimated four per cent of the Welsh landscape and support many important habitats and species. There is no commercial extraction of peat in Wales and our National Peatland Action Programme sets out a five year plan to ensure we continue to protect and cherish our valuable peatland ecosystem.”

The National also contacted each of the opposition parties in Wales to discover their stance on a peat ban in Wales.

The leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Jane Dodds MS said: “There is no such thing as sustainable peat and I would welcome any moves to ban the sale of it in Wales. Many natural peatlands have been destroyed to enable the sale of household compost.

“Peatlands are carbon sinks and are important for our wider ecosystem and the destruction of them for compost is unacceptable. I want to see the Welsh Government take action to protect and rebuild our peatlands across Wales.”

The Welsh Conservative shadow climate change minister, Janet Finch-Saunders MS, said: “Peatlands play a vital role in trapping carbon, helping to control flooding, and encouraging plants and vegetation that act as homes for wildlife, but when damaged, for example when mined for compost, they can end up emitting their carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

“I have seen first-hand the benefits of peatland restoration on the Migneint. What our farmers, the National Trust and NRW have achieved in Snowdonia has shown clear promise and provides a recipe for success that should be replicated elsewhere.

“With positive action being taken to protect and restore peatlands elsewhere in the UK, it’s vital the Welsh Labour Government now brings forward an updated action plan, based on this best practice, to help halt the decline in nature across Wales.”

The National is running its first Environmental Awards to celebrate the best green practices and climate-action projects across Wales.

The awards shine a spotlight on the individuals, companies and organisations doing outstanding work to protect the environment and tackle climate change.

Find more information on the criteria and how to nominate here.

The National Wales: