Peat-free campaign launches to help fight climate change

If you were to do just one thing to fight climate change, what would it be? Buy an electric car, install solar panels, give up air travel – or go peat-free?

Peatlands are one of the most important natural resources we have in the fight against climate change, yet they are being systematically drained and dug up – all too often to simply fill a cheap bag of compost in your local garden centre.

Here at the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, we are delighted to have launched our #PeatFree campaign – encouraging everyone at home to take one simple step that could have a huge impact not only for our wildlife, but could also help to save our planet.

When you next buy a bag of compost or a new plant for the garden, all we are asking you to do is ensure it's peat-free. It really is as simple as that.

A species of carbon-capturing sphagnum moss on Winmarleigh Moss in Lancashire

Sphagnum mosses are really special ecosystem engineers

Through our social media channels we'll be encouraging you to go #PeatFree and raise awareness about the importance of peat-free gardening. We'd love you to share your sources of peat-free compost and plants, your peat-free gardening tips and even the fruits of your peat-free labour with the hashtag, #PeatFree.

So when you next buy a bag of compost or a new plant for the garden, please make sure that it is peat-free – and then tell us about it.

Peatlands form over millions of years, providing a home to a variety of specially adapted plants and wildlife that simply couldn’t survive anywhere else. One such example is the special peat-forming sphagnum mosses that thrive in the wet, acidic and low nutrient conditions of peatlands.

As the bottom layer of sphagnum dies it decomposes very slowly, eventually forming peat and, crucially, trapping all of the carbon that is held in its cells, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. In this way, peatlands provide an incredibly efficient and globally important carbon store.

Peatlands store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests
Source: UN*

And even better, a healthy peatland will continue to absorb carbon from the atmosphere almost indefinitely.

The devastation of peat extraction on Chat Moss in Manchester

The devastation of peat extraction on Chat Moss in Manchester

However, this is not the case for most of the world’s peatlands. Historically drained and either dug up for fuel or turned into agricultural land, many of our peatlands have become damaged and degraded. In this state, not only can they no longer absorb carbon from the atmosphere, they are actually actively releasing it, becoming a major source of greenhouses gasses.

CO2 emissions from drained and burned peatlands equate to 10 per cent of all annual fossil fuel emissions
Source: UN**

But what’s worse is that the process of peat extraction still continues today. Across large areas of Ireland, the Baltic States, Scandinavia and North America, peat is still being extracted, often to simply fill a bag of cheap garden compost or to grow nursery plants. Peat is used for no other reason than it is cheap, available, has low levels of natural nutrients (so can have exact formulations easily added) and holds water well.

However, there are lots of great peat replacement products available. Coir, which is made from the hairy parts of coconuts husks (that would otherwise be a waste product), composted wood materials such as bark and sawdust, or your own home-made compost, all provide excellent alternatives. But often it is as easy as simply ensuring that when you are choosing a bag of compost you only buy one that is expressly labelled as ‘peat-free’.

Hands holding soil with a worm

There are lots of great alternatives to peat-based compost

In some cases, peat-free compost may be a little more difficult to find and may cost a little more, but it is only through consumer action – which can be as simple as you asking, “Where is your peat-free compost? Oh, you don’t have any, then I will go elsewhere” – that this will change.

Also, please don’t forget to ensure that you only buy peat-free plants too. Growing from seed or bulbs and buying bare root trees and plants are all a good start, but why not take the time to find your local peat-free nursery and support them (many offer online ordering too). Again, it is only consumer pressure that will make a difference.

Many of our most recognisable names in horticulture; such as Monty Don, The RHS and The National Trust, have already moved to peat-free growing, so why not follow their lead and make one small change that could make one huge difference?

If Kew Gardens can go peat-free, then so can we!