Peat: should it be taxed?

There is an interesting article in today’s Times concerning peat in compost and whether or not a £1 tax should be imposed per average bag of peat.  It would seem that the RHS is in disagreement with conservation and wildlife charities over this matter, arguing that peat-free compost remains inferior when used for some plants and suggesting that gardeners have a right to use small amounts of peat.

This is an interesting subject, especially in light of a recent discussion started by Karen Hall at her Artist’s Garden blog about the cost of gardening.  The price of compost was alluded to – typically £12 for 3 bags; would £15 start to seem like too much?

I’m sure that many of us try and produce our own garden compost and look out for peat free alternatives; however, it often seems that garden centres just don’t stock sufficient peat-free alternatives and, as the RHS argue, when they do these alternative products are not yet up to scratch for use with some plants or with seeds. What needs to happen here is that a product must be developed that successfully reproduces the qualities of peat so that gardeners don’t feel they are sacrificing their ability to cultivate plants. 

It goes without saying that it is important for a gardener not to have a negative impact on the environment, either directly or indirectly.  With only 700 hectares (appx. 1730 acres) of England’s original peat bogs remaining intact, supporting bird and insect species, it is essential that we think carefully about how we garden using peat. 

With retailers missing the target set by Government for “all growing media and soil improvers” to be peat-free by the end of last year (apparently peat-free alternatives accounted for only 60% of the market), it is perhaps down to us, the consumer to press the issue forward and encourage swifter development in this area.


10 responses to this post.

  1. Dear Jason, Unfortunately, as with most goods, there has to be sufficient incentive for manufacturers to develop their products. And, as the peat free alternative has been under discussion for more years than I care to remember and yet no viable solution is as yet forthcoming, one must draw the conclusion that no-one really sees the need to change. You are right, developments are only going to be seen if there is a strong and widespread movement for them and perhaps a tax might just be a prod in the right direction.


    • You’re quite right Edith, so much is driven by the markets; if money can’t be made then it won’t get done. I think that a tax could be worth implementing as I’m sure it would elicit a demand from manufacturers to get on with producing more peat-free alternatives.


  2. Hi Jason, this is a very interesting article that you have just posted.
    I knew nothing of those facts that you have provided in your blog, but I myself do try not to buy any composts which include peat. I have not as yet had a problem finding peat free composts, and never really had any problems growing with them either.
    I totally agree with Edith when she says that there must be sufficient incentive for the manufacturers to advance and bring forward these peat free alternatives, and it is most definitely something that we can help with ourselves by never buying composts made from peat.
    I would be all for a tax on it!!!


    • Hi Simon,

      Glad you liked the article and that it gave you some food for thought. It’s encouraging to hear that you’ve no problem getting hold of peat-free alternatives; I find that it can sometimes be a bit tricky and I have found that sometimes the alternative mediums are not the best. Again, I agree with what Edith says and I think you’re quite right that a tax might be the best way of removing peat from growing mediums and soil improvers once-and-for-all.


      • Morning Jason,
        My local garden centre (Blooms) stocks entirely peat free composts i think… but i will have to check for sure the next time i go in.
        I have to admit that sometimes for the longer term plantings in tubs and baskets etc, it seems as if the peat free does not have the same nutrients in it as the peat based composts.. but it’s nothing that a liberal dose of fish blood and bone can’t sort out, or just a feed with a bit of liquid food. To me, the preservation of our wildlife habitats is far more important than having to worry about feeding my plants once in a while!
        Keep up the great posts buddy!

  3. Posted by walford on February 28, 2011 at 19:17

    maybe you are unaware of the truth which is :
    the environmental pressure on reduction of peat use by the horticultural industry is valid in protecting lowland UK peat bogs as few such habitats still exist.

    However, somehow, the protection of these lowland peat bogs has lead, almost completely without justification, to a national compaign casting peat use as ‘sinful’ or morally wrong. There are several arguments put forward to justify the enforced reduction in use of peat but most of these are dubious at best and often factually inaccurate.

    1. The main claim levelled is that peat is a ‘non-renewable’ like oil. This is simply not true. If carefully harvested from live peat bogs, peat is a fully renewable resource. Anyone can see this for themselves in countries such as Sweden. Here peat is grown and harvested rather like tree plantations. Scientists have estimated that the annual growth in peat far exceeds the amount that is extracted each year, so it is in essence a completely renewable resource.

    2. It is claimed is that the world is somehow running short of peat. The area from Norway to Siberia is, rather simply put, the world’s largest peat bog. A fraction of 1% of the reserves have probably been extracted. On a global scale peatland is not rare nor threatened, the earth is known to generate around 600 million cubic metres per year but only a maximum 200 million cubic metres is extracted each year. So unlike coal or oil, the amount is increasing year on year. Most of the land where the peat is, has little or no alternative use. Compared to farming, fishing, golf courses, or any other major land-use, peat production which is carefully managed, is a sound, sustainable and ‘green’ activity.

    Looking at Scotland for example, around 50% of the land is peat covered as can be seen on the maps, linked to below.

    Map of the deep peat deposits in Scotland

    And this of heather moorland 
    3. The threat to rare ecosystems, such as UK. lowland peatland habitats. In the UK peatland is not threatened, peat producers have already agreed not to seek or to extract from areas with a conservation value. Peat Extraction for Horticulture is NOT the main cause of damage to the UK peat lands. In fact, since 1960 only just over 500 hectares have been introduced for peat production whereas 95,000 hectares have been lost to forestry. The peatlands of Great Britain cover an area of some 17 500 km2, most in north and west. Scotland has c. 68%, England 23% and Wales 9%. There are about 1 700 km2 of peatland in Northern Ireland, mostly located in the western half of the province.

    In Great Britain, commercialised peat extraction takes place on only some 5 400 ha (equivalent to about 0.3% of total peatland). Almost all peat industry output is for the horticultural market; there is however still quite extensive (but unquantified) use of peat as a domestic fuel in the rural parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland.


    • Hello anonymous. Perhaps you could provide your name and let me know where you are?


    • Unfortunately this comment has come in anonymously (I did ask for a name but have had no response). The individual clearly has some very strongly held feelings on the issue and introduces some new numbers to the debate (though referring to them as ‘truth’ is a little far fetched given they are just statistics, all of which are subject to manipulation). I also find it odd that the writer referres to notions of sin and morality when the debate on this blog has never been set in these frames of reference.

      I am a little concerned by the failure to cite where the information comes from and the fact that the attitude seems to be that if peat is there then why not exploit it (this is a very twisted logic in my view). I do however think the comment on the loss of peatland to forestry is very interesting.

      If anyone can identify where these stats are available from that would be much appreciated.


      • One thing i did recall when reading Walford’s post, was an article in the newspaper some time ago about the peat bogs between Siberia and Norway. They are as he says ‘the worlds biggest peat bogs’ , but they are also in a permanently frozen state ‘permafrost’. As they are being harvested, and as the worlds climate also warms up, the permafrost thaws and releases masses of methane into the atmosphere, thus increasing the greenhouse effect, and then warming the permafrost even quicker…. result… one hell of a vicious circle.

        Not sure if this is still the case, they may have found out new evidence to the contrary now, but i was somewhat concerned upon reading it originally.

  4. Hi Simon, thanks for this additional info. I get the feeling that this is an issue that will rumble on for some time, especially as new peat deposits are exploited elsewhere in the world. Jason.


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