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Apr 30

Peat Harvesting For Compost

Peat has been used in compost for 40-50 years. Its properties make it an ideal growing medium for all types of plants. However, harvesting peat causes extensive damage to peat bogs and releases significant amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.

The UK government set a target to reduce the use of peat compost to 10% of all compost by 2010. However, in 2013 peat compost still accounts for 50% of all compost used in the UK. With the increased popularity of gardening the actual reduction has only been from 3.3 to 3 million cubic metres per year. The target is now to completely phase out peat in compost by 2020.

Peatland

Peatlands occur where waterlogging prevents plants from breaking down fully. Largely composed of sphagnum moss, peatland accumulates very slowly at a rate of 1mm/ yr. Because peat accumulates so slowly it is classed as a fossil fuel. Peatland occurs all around the world with the oldest peatlands being 360 million years old!

Environmental Issues

Habitat Damage

Peatlands are an important and rare ecosystem providing a habitat for numerous species of animals and plants. Ecologically, peatlands are considered to be as important as rain forests by many naturalists.

Peatlands are a type of wetland but the acidic conditions mean only certain species can thrive here. The RSPB are one of the main vocal opponents to peat harvesting because they are an important habitat for many birds.

Flood Prevention

Peat bogs absorb tons of water, their destruction increases the risk of flooding. The bogs also purify water and the  ditches for extraction interfere with the water table.

Climate Change

Peatlands are huge carbon sinks. The national trust estimates 20 yrs worth of UK emissions are contained in the UK’s peat bogs. Globally, 550 Gt of carbon is contained in peat bogs. The carbon is released as CO2 when the peat is dried out either naturally or when harvested. With rising temperatures peat bog fires have become a huge source of CO2.

Alternatives

Peat free compost had a bad name when it was first introduced. Gardeners got poor results and turned their backs on it. However, there has been significant developments in peat-free compost over the past few years. A peat free alternative won Which? best buy container compost in 2012. Excellent peat free composts are now available which use garden waste, bark, biochar and wool.

Poor Harvest 2012

The wet summer of 2012 in the UK lead to a poor peat harvest. Harvesting peat requires 4-5 days of dry weather. Peat is loosened then dries out for a few days before it is harvested. Britain’s biggest peat supplier only harvested 1/5 of the regular amount in 2012. That is good news for the peat bogs and the shortage is sure to lead to further innovations in peat-free composts.

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