GARDEN columnists Patch of the Planet on why peat should be banned from the garden

We all decry the destruction of the rainforests, yet too many of us gardeners still aid the destruction of a unique habitat much closer to home.

There are plenty of gardening myths around, but perhaps the greatest is that peat is an essential ingredient to good gardening.

In fact, the opposite is the case – it is essential that we stop using it.

It’s not immediately easy to avoid peat. Most plant nurseries use peat and most of the composts in garden centres have peat in them.

It’s popular because it’s light, good at retaining moisture, drains freely and has a good, open structure, helping plants establish their roots.

It’s also cheap, which is a big reason for the gardening industry’s reluctance to look elsewhere.

It sounds good if you want to ignore the downsides; a bit like fossil fuels or tropical hardwood. But downsides there are, and they are serious.

Peat bogs are special types of wetlands that have become waterlogged. Peat itself is partially decomposed plant material which has built-up in these waterlogged conditions.

The bogs develop extremely slowly – produced at a rate of just half a millimetre a year, meaning many of our peat bogs have developed over thousands of years.

They are unique habitats that support a vast web of species, including butterflies, dragonflies and birds, mosses, grasses, sedges and many flowering plants.

Peat bogs also store large quantities of carbon and if we are to take climate change seriously then every natural carbon store, like peat bogs, must stay untouched.

The peat that we see in the shops and nurseries is dug through mass, commercial extraction. 500 years’ worth of peat ripped out of a sensitive and unique habitat in a single year, for the profit of a big company somewhere. We saw it for ourselves in Ireland, where most of the UK’s peat comes from, just a year or so ago – it’s not a pretty sight.

Us gardeners use 70 per cent of the peat extracted – a massive three billion litres every year – aiding the destruction of habitats essential to a wide range of our wildlife and adding to climate change.

A home-grown cabbage or the bloom on your roses is just not worth that much.

But this scale of use also means we have real buying power to force change. So here are some alternatives that mean you can be a part of the solution from today:

• New Horizons peat-free compost is available in many garden centres.

• Dalefoot do an excellent and full range of peat-free composts made using uk-reared sheep’s wool, available here:

• B&Q produce an own-brand “Verve” peat-free compost.

• If your garden centre doesn’t provide peat-free, ask them why not and request that they do.

• Make your own compost. You can see Monty Don’s peat-free compost recipes here: