Peat in a Bag or Peat in a Bog?
Peat bogs are
areas of great natural beauty, as well as being rich
in wild plants, insects and animals. Yet we are still
using peat in our gardens and putting these irreplaceable
habitats under threat. Michaela Strachan wants to know
Did you know that 30th July is International Bog Day?
Well you’d be forgiven if you didn’t, but
it is. It’s a day to celebrate these rare and
unique habitats and to make people aware that they are
sadly fast disappearing. There are a few reasons why
this happening, namely drainage for agriculture, forestry
and the commercial extraction of peat for the horticultural
industry. And that brings me to the subject of this
month’s article: PEAT, PEAT, GLORIOUS PEAT!
Now I don’t want to go off on one, but why oh
why are people still using peat? I recently did an item
on Countryfile about bogs and peat and was astonished
to learn that despite the fact that environmentalists
have been banging on for years about why gardeners shouldn’t
use peat, sales have risen dramatically. Has everyone
just put their heads in their peat-filled sand pits
or does no one care? Maybe everyone’s just forgotten
what the whole issue is about or simply got too bogged
down in trying to make their gardens grow! For those
caring wildlife gardeners amongst us I thought I’d
do a little refresher course.
First of all, what is a peat bog?
Well it’s a wetland site with poor drainage. Peat
bogs are fed by rainwater and the soil builds up its
own water table and acidity. Sphagnum mosses grow and
decay eventually forming layers of peat, then peat mounds
many metres deep. This process takes thousands of years,
which is why sustainable large-scale peat extraction
is impossible; the extraction is always faster than
the growth. Habitats like these simply take too long
to grow back.
Why are they so
Because so many peat bogs have been damaged, they are
now very rare. Around 94% of Britain’s peatlands
have been destroyed or damaged, and peat mining still
goes on, and will continue to go on while demand is
If you’ve ever been to a peat bog you’ll
know what amazing places they are. If not, I recommend
a visit. Peat bogs are rich in diversity of plants and
wildlife, some of which are unique to these environments.
They are home to thousands of insects including butterflies,
dragonflies and the rare raft spider. Nearly a thousand
different flowering plants grow there, including carnivorous
plants such as the great sundew as well as mosses, fungi
and lichens. Birdlife is abundant: waders, wildfowl,
nightjar, winchat, merlin, short-eared owl, golden plover,
snipe, sparrowhawks and - as I witnessed myself when
I recently went to the restored Fenn’s Whixall
and Bettisfield Mosses site in Wales - hobbies, which
were feasting on the numerous dragonflies.
Peat bogs are also rich in social and biological history.
They contain irreplaceable materials dating back to
the ice age. Many objects are preserved in peat bogs,
things like ancient boats, trees and even bodies.
What is peat used for?
Peat was used for centuries as fuel, but these days
gardeners get through huge amounts in the form of compost,
growbags and peat pots; the solid bales are even used
for garden walls.
So now you’ve all been reminded about the huge
environmental impact that using peat has, I’m
sure you’re very keen to know what you can do
about it. It’s very simple, DON’T BUY
PEAT. You’ll be doing the environment a huge
favour. There are many alternatives that gardening outlets
can recommend; here are a few.
1. Home-made compost - this is an obvious soil improver
and one that I hope you have all started to make by
now. (Check out my compost article from a few months
here.) Not only does this reduce your garden and
household waste, it is also extremely environmentally
2. Coir - this is
the most popular alternative to peat when used as a
growing media. It’s a by-product of the coconut
industry and is imported from Sri Lanka, India and the
Philippines. It comes as a tough, fibrous, pithy material
or as dust and has proved to be very successful for
bedding plants, germinating seeds and propagating cuttings.
3. Leaf mould - again this is very environmentally friendly.
After two years, leaf mould can be sieved and used as
a great peat substitute for improving soil.
4. Manure - if you live on or near a farm this is ideal!
Well-rotted cow, chicken and horse manure are particularly
5. Bark chipping and even sheep’s fleeces can
be used as an effective mulch.
6. Pine needles and composted bracken are excellent
if you need to increase the acidity of your soil.
At present, alternatives to peat account for less than
30% of the market, which if you ask me is pretty unimpressive!
A staggering 2.55 million cubic metres of peat are used
every year in the UK for horticultural uses.
So next time you have a little peat memory lapse remember
this: you can have peat in a bag or you can have peat
in a bog but you can’t have both. We can’t
rely on the government to make the decision, so once
again its up to the consumer to make the choice. I hope
you’ll all make the right one!
Stay gardening wild, be a proud and peat-free gardener.
Location photographs courtesy of A-Z Botanical Collection
reprinted with permission from Greenfingers.com