Amateur gardeners have been warned by conservationists that thousands of
species are being put in danger by their use of peat.
Despite campaigns by green groups and celebrity gardeners such as Monty Don,
Charlie Dimmock and Alan Titchmarsh to raise awareness of the importance and
fragility of peatland habitats, the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) claims that
the majority of gardeners have failed to cut their use of peat in recent years.
As a result, the SWT fears that gardeners' buying habits are damaging
wildlife-rich habitats in Europe, endangering a variety of species and directly
contributing to the threat of global warming.
Peat is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation matter that forms over
centuries in the waterlogged, sterile, acidic conditions of bogs and fens. These
conditions favour the growth of mosses, especially sphagnum, which support
plants and animals.
Although little more than three per cent of the earth's land is covered in peat,
its importance has been recognised by the European Union for conservation under
the Habitats and Species Directive. Peat bogs "lock up" carbon that would
otherwise increase the greenhouse effect.
However, despite apocalyptic warnings of greenhouse gases affecting the planet,
the SWT is alarmed that peat continues to be the favoured growing medium among
gardeners, even though the habit only started in the 1950s following aggressive
marketing by the peat industry.
"It is disappointing to see that peat use has remained stagnant, with a massive
volume being used by the amateur gardeners," said Stuart Brooks, head of
conservation at SWT.
Peat has been extracted in "astronomical" amounts from Scotland since the 19th
century and in recent years the "tradition" has been exported to areas of
northern and eastern Europe, where regulations are less stringent. The SWT
claims that a particularly "worrying trend" is the growth in the volume of peat
from areas which are home to species unique to the habitat.
According to figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs, the amount of peat used in horticulture has remained static over the
past seven years, despite efforts to promote alternative soils.
Over the past few years, celebrities and environmentalists have joined campaigns
to convince amateur gardeners to give up their old habits. But recent research
indicates that this group still accounts for two-thirds of the peat used in the
Campaigners are now urging the Government to provide retailers with more access
to peat alternatives to meet demand and encourage gardeners to make their own
"Every year thousands of tons of waste that could provide valuable compost is
being dumped into landfill," said Mr Brooks. "We are increasing recycling, so
let's get composting in the mix too."
Peat used to cover some 95,000 hectares of the UK but now only 6 per cent of
that remains in Britain, with two-thirds of it in Scotland.