Just one out of 20 leading garden retailers has pledged to eliminate peat from its shelves this year, according to a survey carried out by wildlife campaigners.
The Wildlife Trusts said the findings from its research show a lack of ambition by garden centres, DIY stores and supermarkets to set targets to end sales of peat, which comes in products including bagged compost and potted plants.
The trusts are calling for the Government to bring in an immediate ban on sales of peat compost for gardeners, and bring forward an end to its use in commercial horticulture to 2025, to protect important peatland habitat.
Healthy peatlands trap in carbon, helping tackle climate change, store water to curb flooding and provide habitat for plants and animals, but lose these functions if the peat is damaged, such as being dug up and removed for sale.
The Government set voluntary goals to end sales of peat compost for amateur gardens by 2020 and for a phase-out of its use in commercial horticulture by 2030, as part of efforts to curb carbon emissions.
But the target for amateur gardeners was missed, and there has been slow progress on reducing peat use in the professional growing sector.
The survey by the Wildlife Trusts reveals that only two retailers out of the 20 who were polled responded to say they have set an end-date for peat sales – Travis Perkins for this year, and Wickes by 2025.
Others among the 11 out of 20 retailers who replied to the survey have plans to end peat sales in the future, but have no dates specified, and some responded with no clear commitments, the wildlife groups said.
Four retailers stock peat-free plants, and a number of companies have peat-free composts – some of which are price-matched with traditional products.
Hillier garden centres stock peat-free compost and plants, their tree production is already peat-free, and the company is aiming for production of all other plants across its nurseries to be peat-free for 2022, the survey found.
It comes in the wake of an industry report which showed that peat continued to make up 44.6% of compost sold in the retail sector in 2019 and more than two million cubic metres of peat was sold or used in the UK that year.
There have been growing calls for the Government to put in a legal ban halting sales of peat, ahead of publication of its long-awaited strategy on the issue.
And last month the UK’s leading gardening charity, the Royal Horticultural Society, announced it would be going 100% peat-free by 2025 and urged gardeners to make the switch to greener alternatives.
Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, said: “The time for voluntary agreements is over – the sale of peat must end now.
“Countless promises have been broken, and targets missed, with the result that precious peatland habitats are still being unnecessarily destroyed in the name of gardening.
“Peatlands are vital wildlife habitats and it’s absolutely crucial that they remain intact to help us tackle climate change.
“The Government can ensure that these important carbon stores function as nature intended by banning peat sales now.
He congratulated Travis Perkins for planning to eliminate peat from its shelves by 2021, and Hillier for demonstrating it is possible to produce compost and grow high-quality plants without peat.
But he said the Government must make others follow their lead, warning “the time for delay and excuses is over”.
An Environment Department (Defra) spokesman said the Government is committed to phasing out the use of peat in horticulture in England by 2030 and urged all gardeners to use only peat-free products.
“Some progress has been made with new peat-free products coming on to the market, and industry monitoring has revealed a 25% decrease in peat sold from 2011 to 2019.
“We have been clear that we will consider further measures to end the use of peat, and will be consulting on these measures this year,” the spokesman said.
The Co-op, which was not one of the retailers questioned in the survey by the Wildlife Trusts, has committed to selling only peat-free compost in its stores.
The retailer said it is working with horticultural company Westland and rolling out the firm’s New Horizon peat-free compost to more than 1,100 of its food stores and forecourts as part of its work to tackle climate change.
Martin Spencer, Co-op’s buyer for home and leisure, said: “We want to make it easier for our members and customers to make small changes in their everyday lives which, together, add up to making a big difference to our environment.”
James Barnes, chairman of the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA), said the industry fully supported alternatives to peat.
“Manufacturers now produce more peat-free and peat-reduced growing media than ever, which are stocked and sold by retailers, but an immediate ban on peat use is unrealistic – access to the amount and quality of alternative materials needed is not yet in place.”
He said the HTA had come together with other industry groups to propose a way forward with work to be published soon, including “meaningful and realistic peat removal targets” and said the organisation wanted to work with Government, organisations and the supply chain to deliver viable, responsibly sourced alternatives.
But he warned: “Success is dependent upon Government recognising the need to support the industry to bring to market new and novel alternative materials, as well helping to unlock the lack of availability of tried and tested alternatives.”