Removing peat from amateur gardening will help us protect nature and take us closer to our goal of reaching net zero

This country’s peatlands contain more carbon than the forests of the UK, France and Germany combined. They are the UK’s largest carbon store. And they are home to some of our most iconic and rarest wildlife, such as the bittern, the swallowtail butterfly, the short-eared owl, and the hen harrier.

But less than 20% of out peatlands are in a near-natural state. 87% of England’s deep peat areas are degraded, damaged or dried out.

In these circumstances, it makes no sense to worsen the problem by continuing to allow extraction of peat for compost and other gardening products. That is why I have proposed a Bill in Parliament to end the use of peat in amateur gardening products this year and work towards extending that ban to professional horticulture in the future.

Extraction degrades the state of the wider landscape, damages wildlife habitats, and releases stored carbon, contributing to climate change.

The Royal Horticultural Society has backed a ban on the use of peat in amateur gardening. Companies like B&Q have gone peat-free. The consumer group WHICH has concluded that there is a good range of lower-cost peat-free options on the market.

There has already been a significant shift to non-peat compost products, thanks to the efforts of the horticulture industry, of Defra Ministers, of campaigners like Monty Don, and thanks to responsible choices made by gardeners.

But peat can still lurk in gardening products such as potted house plants and trays of bedding plants. Its presence in these products is rarely labelled, meaning even the most ecologically committed gardener may not know it is there.

Gardeners should be able to buy from a garden centre without fear that their purchase will harm the environment elsewhere.

There are now reasonably priced peat-free composts using materials such as bark, coir, and bracken. Alternatives for products like potted plants are also available.

Peat use more than halved between 2020 and the end of 2022, including a reduction of nearly 70% in the amateur sector. In 2022, professional use of peat fell below 50% of their total consumption of growing media for the first time.

But UK horticulture still used 950,000 cubic metres of peat in 2022, including 471,000 cubic metres in the retail sector.

Only a small proportion of the UK’s peat is affected by extraction for horticultural products. But by targeting the demand for peat, we can help keep it in the ground both here and overseas, preventing damaging release of carbon.

It will take longer to phase out peat from professional horticulture because there are greater difficulties in finding adequate replacements for the peat products currently used by that sector.

I would call on both the industry and the Government to ensure that meaningful change is delivered by the time we reach 2030, a deadline for going peat-free that has been on the table for over a decade.

This ban would be just one part of a wider strategy to achieve the Government’s ambitious targets on restoration of peat habitats. This United Kingdom is custodian of 3 million hectares of peatland, including 13% of the world’s blanket bog, a globally rare ecosystem protected by international treaties.

More money is being invested in peat protection and restoration than ever before. Defra’s 2021 Peatland Action Plan is backed by £50m from the Nature for Climate Fund, a fund to which I was pleased to secure a commitment in the Conservative 2019 manifesto when I was Environment Secretary.

Perhaps even more significant is the fact that England’s new farm support schemes (which replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy) embrace peatland restoration, potentially meaning a major long-term flow of funding for this vital task stretching into the future.

Not only does peat play a vital environmental role in our distinctive island habitat, it is also part of Britain’s identity, history, and culture. It has been described as an encyclopaedia of pollen that can help us understand our ecological history and the changing climate.

Removing peat from amateur gardening will help us protect nature and take us closer to our goal of reaching net zero and preventing disastrous climate change. For peat’s sake, let’s do it.

The Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP

The Rt Hon Theresa Villiers is the Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet, and was elected in 2005.