Harvesting peat is distinctly unsustainable – however gardeners love it. Could we update it with some thing better?
In a greenhouse in Nottinghamshire, Barbara Wright is developing peat.
Well, now no longer peat exactly. Wright’s company, BeadaMoss, is developing sphagnum moss – the primary thing of herbal peat extracted from northern peatlands to be used in gardens throughout americaA and Europe.
BeadaMoss has been developing sphagnum for round 15 years, initially to plant this on degraded peatlands as a fast-music to peatland restoration. But, sparked through environmental worries over the usage of peat in horticulture and a looming restrict in this use withinside the UK, BeadaMoss is now investigating the satisfactory manner to develop sphagnum moss as a substitute for the baggage of peat-primarily based totally developing media observed extensively in lawn centres throughout the world.
Natural peatlands store two times as plenty carbon as all of the world’s forests, however they’re hastily disappearing because of significant extraction. There are finite reserves and peat takes heaps of years to form.
One institution it is been in particular proof against giving it up is gardeners. They use it for fertilising and enhancing the soil, and as a key factor in potting mixes for developing new plant life. It’s prized for its spongy texture, which permits it to maintain onto each water and air – each of which are important for growing roots.
Peat-unfastened compost has grow to be more and more more to be had over the ultimate decade, however traditionally it’s been criticised for now no longer being as good – with a few replacements accused of being dry, inconsistent or low in nutrients.
But as cognizance of the carbon effect of peat has grown, groups and researchers on each aspects of the Atlantic are stepping up efforts to discover opportunity answers withinside the quest to update this extraordinary material.
Peat is a herbal substance shaped of plant life (frequently mosses) which have partly decomposed below waterlogged, anaerobic conditions however nonetheless preserve their different spongy structure.
While many exclusive kinds of peat develop in exclusive locations withinside the world, sphagnum moss – the plant that creates the sort of peat usually utilized in gardening and horticulture – grows in wetland loos in bloodless northern climates.
Peat extraction reasons an entire array of environmental problems. Firstly, it destroys habitats. “Quite quite a few the plant life and bugs and different animals that stay [in peatlands] do not stay everywhere else,” says Judith Conroy, a researcher at Coventry University’s Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR). “It’s a surely precise habitat. And when you dig it up, it will become a barren wasteland, basically.”
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Peatlands additionally act as herbal flood barriers, as their spongy texture slows the passage of water in the course of heavy rainfall events.
But possibly the maximum hanging characteristic of peatlands is the overwhelmingly large quantities of carbon they store. “Roughly three% of [global] landmass is peatland however it has the ability to take in and sequester extra carbon than all of the flora on land, and over heaps of years,” says Alistair Griffiths, director of technological know-how on the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). When peat is extracted from peatlands, this carbon is launched to the atmosphere.
These problems are compounded through the truth that peat takes a totally long term to form – it grows at a charge of round a millimetre in step with year. “It is form of like a younger fossil fuel,” says Conroy. “It’s simply now no longer been there pretty so long as oil or coal; it is been there heaps of years instead of hundreds of thousands of years.”
Peat first started to be extensively utilized in gardening across the 1940s, says Conroy, however it turned into surely the arrival of lawn centres withinside the Nineteen Sixties and 70s, encouraging the transfer from domestic compost to bagged developing media, whilst it started for use extra extensively.
Some 1.7 million cubic metres (60 million cubic feet) of peat had been used withinside the UK in 2021, even though the 2020 increase in lockdown gardening noticed a brief growth to 2.three million cubic metres (81 million cubic feet). It bills for 30% of all developing media offered withinside the UK. However, as maximum of the United Kingdom’s peatlands have already been degraded, it imports plenty of its peat from Ireland and Eastern Europe.
For years, the United Kingdom authorities has mentioned limits at the sale of peat. Voluntary objectives set to give up the sale of peat in domestic-lawn merchandise through 2020 had been missed, however in overdue August 2022 the United Kingdom announced a ban for England in 2024. The ban best objectives bagged retail developing media, which bills for 70% of the peat offered withinside the UK. A voluntary goal to give up the usage of peat withinside the expert zone through 2030 stays in place.
The long-time danger of this ban has sparked a big exploration of peat options withinside the UK, says Brian E Jackson, a horticultural technological know-how researcher at North Carolina State University. In North America, meanwhile, which reassets the good sized majority of its peat from Canada – domestic to 1 / 4 of the world’s peatlands – no regulatory measures are presently at the table, he adds. “In North America, there are very sturdy efforts going into peat options, however it is extra of a proactive approach.”