peatland bogland

Why is going peat-free good for the environment?

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There has been a lot of talk about peat and why using it in your garden is bad for the environment.  But for many of us, we’re just learning about what it even is. It’s used widely and can be found in many bagged composts you pick up at your local garden centre.  So what is peat and why are so many of us ditching it in our gardens?… Let’s dive in…

What is peat?

‘Peat’ is found in peatlands, also known as peat bogs, which are a type of wetland.  Peat is formed when the ground layer of a bog, mostly made of Sphagnum moss, which decays and then compresses.  This process creates many layers of decayed moss, thus, peatlands are usually meters thick beneath the surface.

It’s estimated that peatlands cover 5% of the earth’s total surface. it’s estimated they make up 11% of England’s land surface. but peatlands only form under very specific conditions, making them unique.  Some of the conditions needed to create a peat bog are:

  • A geographically low location, where water is ever present just below or above the surface
  • The area must include a variety of plants that are water resistant or thrive hydroponically, such as mosses, ferns, aquatic trees, and grasses like reeds or bulrush.
  • The ground and groundwater are mineral rich

Why are peatlands good for the environment?

They store carbon waste – Natural England recently published a 240 page study titled “Carbon storage and sequestration by habitat: a review of the evidence (second edition)”, in which they’ve found that a peat bog that’s 10-metres deep can store eight times more carbon than an equivalently sized tropical rainforest.  They’ve concluded that “peatland habitats hold the largest carbon stores of all habitats.”

Peatlands are biodiverse – This means peatlands are home to a vast and wide array of plant, insect, and animal species, some of which will only grow, mate, or thrive here.  When peatlands are destroyed these species are also at risk

peatland bog with trees

Why is harvesting peat from peatlands bad?

A peatland is capable of storing millennia worth of carbon if undisturbed. However, if peatlands are destroyed, they release their carbon.  It’s essential to allow peatlands to thrive not only so they continue to absorb carbon, but also so they don’t release what they’ve absorbed. They’re also a habitat to a diverse range of species, many of which are rare or endangered.

Why is peat used in our garden compost?

Peat has been used for decades as a growing medium, commonly purchased at garden centres.  It’s often cheaper than alternatives and has become a trusted growing material that some people are reluctant to give up. Many of us simply never realised what peat was, where it came from, or the harmful effects its harvesting has on our ecosystems and planet.  Luckily, you can review the composition labels on the compost packaging, which should tell you how much peat is used if any at all.

What’s being done to protect peatlands?

The UK government has made a voluntary commitment to phase out peat use by 2030.  Admittedly, this doesn’t seem to be having a big effect, but the growing talk about protecting peatlands is educating the public, who are wanting to go peat free, thus affecting what businesses are selling and how they operate.  Like the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) which has pledged to go peat free by 2025.

What are great peat free alternatives?

Luckily peat free, eco-friendly alternatives are available and relatively accessible 

  • Coconut coir – which is made from coconut tree waste. It holds water well and is also great for drainage.  It doesn’t hold nutrients particularly well, so check your plants’ needs before using.  I personally like to mix this with organic materials and other additives like biochar and pearlite as and when needed.
  • Wood – composted wood chips, bark, saw dust, and other wood material works well as a peat alternative.  It has great drainage and works well with most plants
  • Homemade – making your own compost at home has become easier in recent years with great space saving inventions and online tips and tools to get you started.  It’s a great way to be circular with your waste and production.
  • Check your council to see how they are using collected green waste.  They might offer a compost program that you’re not aware of! 
Organic, eco-friendly, peat-free coconut compost expandable pellets

I hope this article has helped answer some questions you might have had about peat and its contributions to the environment.  Have you recently gone peat free or know of a great peat free alternative? Let us know in the comments below 🙂

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