For the Love of Peat!


When we think about sustainable gardening, we often think about planting for pollinators. However, what we choose to grow our plants in is just as important. That’s why we would like you to know about peat — organic matter sometimes found in bagged compost. Whilst many of us know peat-free is better, we aren’t always sure why. In short, peat is pretty amazing when it comes to the environment. Read on to learn about why peatlands are important, and what you can do to help… 

What are peatlands?

Peatlands are waterlogged landscapes formed of plant material that has built up over thousands of years — it takes approximately 1,000 years for 1 metre of peat to build up! In the UK, there are three types of peatland namely blanket bogs, raised bogs and fenland.

When peatlands are in good condition, peatland plants capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. The wet peatland conditions mean that plants do not fully decompose when they die and this results in the storage of carbon which would otherwise be returned to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. 

Why are peatlands  important? 

Carbon storage Peatlands are one of the most carbon-rich ecosystems on Earth and store twice as much carbon as the world’s forests! They are the single most important terrestrial carbon store in the UK, storing least 3 billion tonnes of carbon.

Water 70% of all drinking water in the UK is derived from peat dominated uplands. Healthy peatlands filter surface water before it reaches water processing plants and reduce the amount of processing required to make water drinkable. Peatlands in poor condition produce higher concentrations of “brown water” carbon that has to be removed at a high cost before the water can be supplied to your home. Peatlands are also important in regulating the flow of water within catchments and reduce flood risk.

Habitat Peatlands are home to rare and endangered wildlife such as large heath butterflies and wading birds like dunlin. Blanket bogs are globally rare and have been referred to as the “rainforests” of the UK. Peat extraction can destroy irreplaceable wildlife habitat that has taken over half a millennia to create.

Unfortunately, human activities such as drainage, burn-management, the cutting of peat for fuel, and peat extraction for horticulture (compost) can negatively impact peatlands. Many of the UK’s peatlands are damaged and emit carbon into the atmosphere instead of storing it. A study led by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the James Hutton Institute estimated the overall, net, greenhouse gas emissions from damaged peatlands could exceed the equivalent of around 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year1.

Although peat extraction for horticulture affects only 0.15% of UK peatland this equates to an area approximately 5 times the area of the Heatons. The peat found in bagged compost is also sourced from Eastern Europe countries. Not only does this displace the problem, the fuel used to transport it to the UK results in further carbon emissions.

However, it’s not all bad news. Once restored to a healthy, functioning habitat peatland will start to absorb carbon as they build up more peat. This is where you can help! 

What can I do?

Buy peat free compost.  When buying compost and plants from garden centres or DIY shops look out for product information that states “100% Peat Free”. Always check wording such as ‘environmentally friendly’ and ‘organic’, as they do not necessarily mean peat-free. Locally, you can buy peat free compost from Bud Garden centre in Burnage. They will also provide you with a refillable bag so you will be reducing your single used plastic waste at the same time. 

Use compost alternatives. The best alternative to garden centre compost will depend on what you want to grow and the existing soil you have in your garden. You may want to research and experiment with bark chipping, coir and wood fibre.  The RHS has produced this helpful guide:  

Make your own compost. This is a great option if you have space. Home composting eliminates carbon miles incurred through the transportation of garden waste to municipal facilities and you can also control the content of your compost. Check out the SLH “Let’s Get Composting!” article

Think about your green and food waste. By ensuring only the correct waste makes it into your garden and food waste bins you’ll be helping to improve the compost created by Greater Manchester municipal waste facilities. The compost produced will be used as a soil improver on agricultural land and reduces the pressures on peat

Tell your friends and family. Despite the international importance of peatlands, the elimination of peat from plant growing mediums is a relatively unknown area of sustainable living. 

Changing how you garden is a small act that can have a big impact! 

Further information. 

1 – “Human activity means UK peatlands contribute to climate change” 

Wildlife Trust – 

Wildlife Trust peat related articles

Moors for the Future Partnership – 

Moors for the Future Partnership deliver a landscape scale programme of blanket bog restoration across the Peak District and South Pennine moors

Office for National Statistics – 

The Office for National Statistics natural capital accounts are produced in partnership with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 

The IUCN UK Peatland Programme promotes peatland restoration in the UK and advocates the multiple benefits of peatlands through partnerships, strong science, sound policy and effective practice.

Centre for Ecology and Hydrology – 

An independent, not-for-profit research institute providing the data and insights that researchers, governments and businesses need to create a productive, resilient and healthy environment.

Recycling Green Waste in Greater Manchester