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Time to Put Environmental Concerns above Commercial Interests.

August 11, 2021 9:39 PM
By Maggie Kellman in Central Bylines ( https://centralbylines.co.uk/leave-peat-where-it-belongs-in-the-ground/ )

Peak District

Peatlands were often seen as holding little if any value. Traditionally the land was drained for arable farming, forestry, and grazing for livestock. Peat continues to be extracted for gardeners and commercial growers or to be burnt as fuel. And here in Derbyshire, the practice of rotational burning of peat to manage the habitat for grouse shooting continues today.

All of these actions have negative implications for the climate. Peat holds considerable amounts of water and helps prevent flooding. Draining the land leads to vast areas of tinder-dry vegetation increasing the risk of wildfires. And burning (whether intentional or by wildfires) contributes to greenhouse gas.

There is significant evidence showing that the role of peatlands or bogs is critical for storing carbon. Peat is the single biggest store of carbon in the UK, holding the equivalent of 20 years of all UK CO2 emissions and keeping it out of the atmosphere.

In Europe alone, peat bogs lock up about five times more carbon than forests. At the same time, they are central to supporting biodiversity, providing a rich ecosystem for rare birds, dragonflies and site-specific plants such as sphagnum moss, reeds and sedges.

The unique nature of peatlands and the centuries they take to develop mean it is much harder to restore a peat bog than to replant a forest. And this is the problem. Peat bogs grow by about 1mm per year while commercial extraction typically removes up to 22cm.

Lib Dem Councilor Maggie Kellman argues "Climate change is advancing fast so our actions to mitigate it must be faster. This isn't someone else's problem, everyone from gardeners to government can play a part. There are alternatives to peat-based products for horticulture including coir, bark, bracken, sheep's wool waste and green waste compost." Research by the Royal Horticultural Society shows that peat is not critical for strong, healthy plants. Chesterfield Borough Council already works to maximise peat-free options and has the power to promote the message to communities and businesses.

Maggie explains "Sales of peat-based compost are to be banned in the UK from 2024 but why wait? The UK will host the global climate conference COP26 in Glasgow in November and a ban now on selling peat in compost would be a good place to start. It would signal a commitment to put environmental concerns above commercial interests."