by Lucy Beevor
Plant lovers, heed the
Skylark’s call: plunge your trowel in
Peat-free soil alone.
I consider myself an engaged environmentalist: I buy shampoo bars and a weekly sack of farm veg, I run errands by bike and am practically vegetarian. I’m probably helping the bog already, without even realising it.
I start digging into the facts.
In the UK, raised bog1 covers 700,000 hectares and blanket bog2 2.25 million hectares; the latter accounts for 13% of the world’s blanket bog. Both are found in the wetter west and north.
I know about the ‘wetter west’; I live in Belfast. It’s August as I write this and it has rained non-stop for three days.
Bogs suck in carbon and trap it, cooling the global climate. The UK’s bogs store three billion tonnes of carbon, about the same as all the forests in the UK, Germany and France combined.
I am astonished. I assumed trees stored the most carbon, certainly not a huge, desolate bog.
Bogs absorb heavy rainfall and floodwater, support wildlife.
A June day on Divis Mountain, overlooking Belfast. Feet think they’ve found a path but sink, suddenly, into squelching moss. A skylark hangs in the air, singing.
So, what or who is destroying our bogs?
A shiver circles my neck. Impossible. Gardeners love nature.
Amateur gardeners account for 58% of the UK’s peat use. Every year, we use 3 billion litres of peat – half a century’s growth – in compost and in the soil of potted plants and shrubs, including indoor ones.
I creep out to my garden shed, drag my plastic sack of compost into the light. “Westland Gardener’s Multi-Purpose Compost, produced from premium grade Irish blended peat which has been milled and graded to produce a quality growing media to ensure healthy plants, vibrant flowers and quality fruit.”
That’s another thing, the UK imports 50% of its peat, off-loading the problems of peat extraction onto other countries and increasing the carbon impact of peat through long-distance haulage. In 2011, the UK government pledged to remove peat from garden products by 2020 and from commercial use by 2030.
It’s 2021 and I’m still buying it. What can I do?
- Buy peat free, use alternatives – check compost bags, outdoor and indoor plant labels for peat-based materials. The Royal Botanic Gardens is peat free, as is the National Trust.
- Be vocal – the more we ask for peat-free options, the more likely stores will stock it.
- Sign The Wildlife Trusts’ pledge to ban peat products now.
I roll up my sleeves. I am a re-engaged environmentalist, cleaning up my dirty secret.
- Raised bogs are often several metres higher than the surrounding land and have a deep body of peat covered with typical bog vegetation.
- Blanket bogs have at least 0.5m of peat, and are found up to 1000m above sea level – usually on flat or gently sloping ground with poor drainage.
Read Michelle Nicol’s 26 Habitats raised bog centena and essay.
Read Gillian McKee’s 26 Habitats blanket bog centena and essay.