Shortlisted Resolution: Stop the destruction of peat bogs to tackle climate change

Peat cutting for compost is harming both our natural environment and our efforts to tackle climate change. 80% of peatlands in the UK are damaged and release millions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. The WI calls on its members to cease using peat-based compost, to persuade others to cease using it and to work with garden centres to encourage them to stock alternative products which already exist, thereby reducing the demand for peat to be harvested

Proposer’s position                   

The proposer would like the WI to raise awareness of the damaging effects of peat-based compost amongst its members and the general public, and to encourage the use of peat-free compost by working with garden centres to ask them to stock alternative peat-free compost products. 

The scale of the problem 

Peat is popular in gardening as it holds water well and has a predictable, consistent quality which is good for growing plants. 

Peat only grows by 1mm a year, and commercial peat extraction can remove over 500 years’ worth of ‘growth’ in a single year. 

When peat is extracted, bogs are drained so they are no longer waterlogged. Once drained, the bogs will begin to dry out and will eventually die. A dead peat bog will then begin to release its stored carbon into the atmosphere. 

It is estimated that global peatlands store a combined 500 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide.

In the UK, it is estimated that peatlands store over 3 billion tonnes of carbon. Commercial peat extraction also destroys natural habitats, and makes areas more vulnerable to flooding. 

Home gardeners account for 69% of peat usage in the UK, using a total of 3 billion litres of peat in their gardens every year.

The current situation

Historically, peat-free products have varied in quality and were considered inferior products. However, there are now universal British standards for compost, regardless if the compost is peat-free.  A greater quantity of peat-free alternatives such as bark, coir, green compost and wood waste are increasingly available.

Terms such as ‘environmentally friendly’ and ‘organic’ can cause confusion amongst consumers, and lead people to believe they are making a green choice when in fact a product contains peat. Unless the packaging on a product states ‘peat free’, it is likely to contain peat. For example, multi-purpose compost could contain at least 70% peat unless it states that it is peat-free.

A number of organisations such as the RHS, Plantlife and the RSPB have expressed their concerns about the environmental impact of peat extraction. The RHS has stopped selling peat-based compost. The National Trust and the Eden Project are implementing peat-free policies in their gardens and green spaces.

In 2011, the UK Government set a voluntary target to phase out the use of peat in home gardening by 2020, and across the industry by 2030. The UK Government has committed to look into further measures to eliminate the use of peat as existing voluntary measures have not had the desired effect. It plans to set out proposals in its forthcoming peat strategy.

The Committee on Climate Change published a report in January 2020 ‘Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK’ calling for the introduction of a ban before 2023 on the extraction and sale of peat for horticultural use in order to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.  

DEFRA and Natural England are currently running ‘Peat Pilots’ to restore five of England’s most iconic peatlands in order to get on track to achieve net-zero by 2050.

As over two-thirds of peat used in the UK is imported from the European Union, it is unlikely that current measures taken by the UK Government to eliminate commercial peat extraction in the UK will force the peat industry into decline.

Text Box: How could the WI work on this issue if it was passed?
A full campaign would be developed by the NFWI if the resolution is passed, taking into account developments since then. To help inform your discussions, here are some ways the WI could consider working on this issue.

At local and regional levels, members could discuss and raise awareness of the issue in their WIs and wider communities.

Members could encourage their local garden centres to stock and promote peat-free compost products.

Nationally, the NFWI could establish partnerships with industry, environmental organisations and commercial businesses. A potential long term goal could be to campaign for clear labelling on the composition of peat.

How could the WI work on this issue if it was passed?

A full campaign would be developed by the NFWI if the resolution is passed, taking into account developments since then. To help inform your discussions, here are some ways the WI could consider working on this issue.

At local and regional levels, members could discuss and raise awareness of the issue in their WIs and wider communities.

Members could encourage their local garden centres to stock and promote peat-free compost products.

Nationally, the NFWI could establish partnerships with industry, environmental organisations and commercial businesses. A potential long term goal could be to campaign for clear labelling on the composition of peat.

Points to consider: 

  • The NFWI has no existing mandates on the use of peat.  
  • Peatlands are important for biodiversity, carbon storage and flood risk management.
  • This resolution could complement the NFWI’s work to tackle climate change.
  • WI campaigns have historically proven very effective at raising awareness of a particular issue or problem. 
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