66. English horticulture uses more than 2.4 million cubic metres of peat each year. Of this 99% is used as a growing media, some 69% by gardeners. Over two-thirds of all peat used in the UK is imported from other countries, including the Republic of Ireland and the Baltic States. Peat is effectively a non-renewable resource since peatlands take thousands of years to form at a rate of only 1 mm per year and extractors typically remove a layer around 22 cm deep. Reclamation schemes at previously worked sites have succeeded in creating attractive wetland areas, but they have not recreated peatlands. It should also be noted that peat extraction generates high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane.
67. The NEWP proposed that there be a progressive phase-out of the use of peat, with a voluntary phase-out by 2020 for amateur gardeners and a final phase-out by 2030 for professional growers of fruit, vegetables and ornamental plants. A Task Force has been established to advise on how best to overcome the barriers to reducing peat use and a review of progress is to be undertaken in 2015, which will consider the use of “alternative policy measures if necessary”.
68. We received diametrically opposed evidence on the peat phase-out ambitions, with some witnesses arguing that a 2030 deadline was too short a timeframe which was not “supported by the available evidence”, whilst others wanted the “shortest timescale for complete UK extraction ending” and discouragement of overseas extraction.
69. Some witnesses including the RSPB had “serious concerns” with the proposed voluntary approach to phasing out the use of peat. Wildlife and Countryside Link told us that it was “unrealistic” for a voluntary approach to achieve the proposed targets and that they needed statutory underpinning. However the horticultural industry had reservations about the potential to develop feasible alternatives to peat and argued that “significant research is needed into the availability and quality of alternatives”.
70. Given that peat extraction destroys irreplaceable habitats and causes greenhouse gas emissions, there is a lamentable lack of ambition in the White Paper’s proposals to phase out peat use. We recommend that the Peat Task Force finalise an approach that ends the use of peat as soon as practicable and that a review of progress is brought forward to 2014.
71. We recognise that it is important to enable those growers still dependent on peat to minimise the economic impact of the phase-out on their businesses. Defra should undertake an awareness campaign that promotes those alternatives to the use of peat that are already available and to encourage the public to grow plants which do not require the use of peat.