This campaign seeks to make Ilkley a peat-free town by the end of 2021. Any remaining peat after 2021 should be exclusively on the moor.
We are a nation of gardeners. Amateur gardeners use lots of compost for a variety of purposes including seed germination, potting on and growing plants in containers. Most buy it, a few make it themselves from is basic components: sand, soil or loam and peat. Until recently, few gardeners have questioned where it comes from and what precious wildlife habitats are destroyed by harvesting it.
Peat is a natural resource removed from peat bogs, moors and fens. It is used in compost mainly because of its water holding capacity. The most famous peat-based compost is John Innes. In England, we now import most of the peat used in compost from Ireland or other parts of Europe. We have destroyed much our own peatland, especially in lowland areas, and now we are destroying theirs.
Why does peat matter?
Peat bogs store huge amounts of carbon by locking it in the ground. Harvesting peat releases the carbon.
Peat bogs act like sponges, retaining rainwater, and helping to reduce the risk of flooding. The sponges are Sphagnum mosses that can soak up between 8 and 20 times their own weight in water. A huge number of tiny microscopic plants and animals live among the mosses.
Peat bogs are unique. The Sphagnum mosses, combined with very low oxygen concentrations, inhibit the decay of plant material by producing antibacterial compounds called phenols.
Much of our water comes from British uplands where peat is found. When peat is present, it removes impurities from the water passing through it, making it cheaper to produce water suitable for drinking.
Peatlands provide the perfect habitat for a wide range of water-loving plants, which in turn support a variety of species of butterfly, dragonfly and birds.
Peat accumulates slowly, by only 1-2 mm a year so is effectively a non-renewable resource. Harvesting peat from bogs often removes around 500 years of growth at a time.
“Peat may be dirt cheap but it costs the earth.”
“If you are a gardener, the message is simple – the plants that need peat are the wild ones which live in bogs, not those in your garden. Peat-free gardening begins with you.”