Converted, for peat’s sake?

April 22, 2016

Why is it every decade there seems to be a revisit of the need to emphasise that peat is not an essential component of the gardeners tool / growing shed of resources?

This time The Guardian offers the confessions of past peat user Robbie Backhall-Miles who explains “Why I changed my mind about peat”. It’s worth a read, B-M says there’s no excuses for continued use of peat by gardeners and even infers horticulturalists as well?  We’d agree but we’d also recognise that the big growing media companies still promote peat above alternatives and pedal the usual argument of the need for consistency and reliability in performance for the horticultural trade.  I would dearly like to buy some of the plants offered in nurseries but I will not if I discover they are grown in peat.  That’s peat in every sense be it SSSI peat or from a non SSSI site.

160422 Looking E across GM hrk 195Moody but magnificent so for peat’s sake leave it alone ….

The battle for the bogs here in the Humberhead has been over some five decades or so and whilst the corporate carnage has in the main ceased there is still the issue of hydrological integrity and drainage.  Then there’s pressure on sensitive species from encouraged access.  What should be the priority?  The habitat, the species or people?  Is there potential conflict or can a balance be achieved?

For sure, as a species we are wasteful and generate veritable mountains of rubbish which we have to dispose of.  Much of it is green waste, be it municipal landscaping off-cuts or our grass cuttings.  If this is composted then it can be used to improve soils.  If it is commercially composted and processed through a rigorous routine then it can be used to grow plants.  One such excellent product was Terra Eco’s peat free compost.  This used straw, an agri-industry by product and Thames Water treated waste*.  Morally when you see the damage out there on damaged or destroyed peat bogs and then factor in the loss of carbon sequestration opportunity ask yourself …. do you really need peat as a growing medium?  But, like so many issues we leave it to market forces supported by massive advertising campaigns to ‘sell’ us the need.

*Evans T.D. (2009) Using composted biosolids as a peat replacement. Proc. 14th European Biosolids and Organic Resources Conf., November 2009, Lowe P.(ed), Aqua Enviro, Leeds, UK


For peat’s sake …. ‘tea-bag technology’ brings hope & a rethink on packaging?

April 20, 2014
There are some good alternatives on the market, the problem seems to be locating stockists.

There are some good alternatives on the market, the problem seems to be locating stockists.

The UK is a nation of graden lovers, but sadly many are still unaware or oblivious to the environmental damage our hobby can do and I’d like to think that’s the last thing anyone would want to unwittingly do.  For decades peat has been marketed as the best growing medium for plants, such is the persuasion of advertising and our hectic lifestyles where just about everything is sourced at some ‘supermarket’ or other.  Thankfully bags of peat are a marginally rarer species in the garden centres than they were a decade or so ago, but whilst we may have slowed the assault on UK peatlands, or at least those with SSSI status and reduced the peat content we still import millions of cubic metres from the Baltic bogs, from Ireland, from China and other countries who need easy revenue.  Effectively therefore a case could be made that all we achieved was to export the problem?

I’m sure we all remember over a decade or so ago the promotion of coir (waste coconut husk) as an alternative growing medium, well B & Q (and hopefully others) have recently announced that they will be using corn starch teabags full of coir to grow a range of 20 popular bedding in, and another bonus is that those ever lasting polystyrene trays are to go as well!  They will be replaced by recyclable ones.  I’m not one for ‘celebrities’ being used to promote recycled policies (we were hearing similar noises twelve years ago) but Emilia Fox did a reasonably persuasive job, and our old friend Dr Olly Watts recycled the habitat loss reminders.  This update appeared on the IUCN Peatland website on 1 April so I think whilst it is a step forward it would be wise to see if the replacement extends wider than the first 20 popular varieties?  But sales and feedback will drive policy?

How many remember the presentation by Stewart Henchie of Kew Gardens at the Scunthorpe Conference in 2002?  For me his message was quite clear, it’s not the growing medium per se that’s important, but the management of it.  So, why is it that we still succumb to the marketing PR of the multinationals every spring when we head for the garden centres or supermarkets?

So, as you head for the garden centres spare a thought for the unique wildlife that peat extraction destroys, make your purchases wisely as each one sends an important message to corporations about ethical practices.  When I have been unable to find peat free compost in garden centres, I’ve taken the trouble to explain why I have not made cany purchase from the store.  Has it done any good, I don’t know but if you don’t register customer comments then they will carry on with environmentally damaging practices for sure!


Round-leaved Sundew (above), a bog speciality that would be lost to peat cutting as would the delightful Bog-Rosemary below. 

You need to get down to her level to really appreciate the beauty of Andromeda

You need to get down to her level to really appreciate the beauty of Andromeda.


The best peat free seed medium I’ve used has been Petersfield Supreme, but the issue is locating stockists as this product is one used by the trade and not a retail product.  TERRA ECO*SYSTEMS (Thames Water) peat free (good potting on compost) can be sourced locally and used to be available at the Old Moor Nature Reserve.

If anyone can offer updates on availability of either product, then please drop us a line via


BIRDING SITE GUIDE - Birding Site Guide

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Hatfield Moors Birding Blog

Bird and other wildlife information service for Hatfield Moors, South Yorkshire, UK © HMBSG 17/11/2010

Mark Avery

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

a new nature blog

I write about politics, nature + the environment. Some posts are serious, some not. These are my views, I don't do any promotional stuff and these views are not being expressed for anyone who employs me.

UK and Ireland Natural History Bloggers

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?