For peat’s sake, UK campaign goes global

Efforts by British campaigners to halt the unsustainable use of peat in horticulture have received international acclaim, just a few days after Environment Minister Michael Meacher reaffirmed the UK Government`s commitment to reducing peat use by 90% before 2010.

At a meeting of the International Mire Conservation Group (IMCG) in France on 21st July, the UK was commended for the impact of its campaign to persuade the public, industry and government to stop using peat. The IMCG applauded the role of major garden centres such as B&Q in raising awareness among gardeners. However, concerns were raised that the success of the campaign in the UK might simply encourage the peat industry to start digging peat from unprotected sites in other countries – particularly in Eastern Europe.

Peat is extracted from fragile peat bogs, a globally important habitat that is rapidly disappearing – Western Europe has lost more than 90% of its original peatland, most of it in the past few decades. At a recent conference in Britain, Mr Meacher said: “These areas have been likened to our rainforests so we must do all we can to encourage the public and industry to seek alternatives to peat in the form of renewable composts made from organic waste.”

Richard Lindsay, Principal Lecturer in Conservation at the University of East London, who chaired the conference, said, “Peat bogs are a vital but vanishing ecosystem. Over the past decade, the UK Peat Campaign has raised the profile of peat bogs from absolutely nowhere to the forecourts of every major Garden Centre in Britain. It is marvellous that the government is helping push for a shift away from peat to the use of recycled organic waste as a means of both protecting fragile peat bogs and solving the problem of our organic waste mountains.”

Craig Bennett, Campaigner for Friends of the Earth said: “Local communities and wildlife groups in the UK have been campaigning against the use of peat in growing media for years, and we have achieved great success with the massive changes now sweeping through the British horticulture industry. But peat bogs are still under threat from big corporations world wide who are putting their profits before people and the environment. We need to make sure that the peat campaign goes global – so that these companies feel the same pressure abroad as they have done here in the UK. Only then, can we begin to protect these fabulous and important habitats”.

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