Essex Climate Ambassadors at Elsenham WI heard how gardeners can help the environment by switching to peat-free compost.

At the last virtual meeting, professional gardener and WI member of the Essex Federation and climate ambassador Andrea Cooper spoke about the peat harvest.

At the meeting it was found that the massive contribution of peat harvest to greenhouse gas emissions is little known.

A location after decades of industrial peat harvesting in Lindow Moss in Cheshire. Photo taken by Cheshire WI Climate Ambassador, Pauline Handley
– Credit: WI Climate Ambassadors

Bog is the UK equivalent of rainforests, absorbing and trapping greenhouse gases, trapping billions of tons of carbon dioxide and methane.

Extraction of peat releases these gases, a process that will continue as the land continues to dry out.

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Participants heard that 80 percent of the UK’s peatlands are now damaged, and that combined they emit 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere each year. One ton of CO2 is equivalent to a flight to New York and back.

Climate ambassadors heard that bogs are home to a variety of rare flora and fauna that are in danger of being lost.

There are a number of restoration programs in place, but peat forms slowly at a rate of 1 mm per year, making peat areas difficult and complex to restore. Bogs also act like a sponge that picks up rainwater to prevent flooding as this water is then released more slowly.

The meeting found that home gardeners account for 69 percent of peat use in the UK, using a total of three billion liters of peat each year – the equivalent of 1,200 Olympic swimming pools. Peat is imported from Ireland and Eastern Europe to meet the additional demand.

The UK government’s advisory body, the Climate Change Committee, has stated that horticultural peat use must end by 2023.

A recent statement announced by the government aims to ban sales to gardeners by 2024, subject to full consultation.

Andrea Cooper, professional gardener and Essex WI Climate Ambassador

Andrea Cooper, professional gardener and Essex WI Climate Ambassador
– Credit: WI Climate Ambassadors

Andrea said that most retailers offer at least one peat-free alternative. Although they are often a bit more expensive, increased demand leads to falling prices. Another alternative is to make your own garden compost.

Karen Pitcher, Climate Ambassador at Elsenham WI, said: “Andrea has certainly opened our eyes to this pressing problem. I am shocked that the peat extraction is still going on and as an avid gardener I will speak to my garden centers and look for alternatives immediately. “