A background to the peat industry and our approach to reducing its usage…

Whilst the percentage of peat in growing media is at an all-time low (approximately 60% of the total volume of growing media sales is made up of peat-alternatives) there continues to be concern surrounding it’s use.

The extraction of peat for growing media now occurs on less than 0.1% of all peatlands within the UK; those areas are then restored to a habitable environment for wildlife. However, The Horticultural Industry Leaders (whose guidance we follow) including the HTA, GCA (and the NFU), are developing a plan outlining how we, as an industry, can work towards targets to remove peat from ornamental horticulture as well as in the commercial production of plants in a manageable way.

This approach will require support from the Government and will also need to be realistic, as highlighted by the original 2020 target, which proved to be far more complex than imagined 10 years before. There has had to be lots of different trials to ensure peat replacements work effectively, as well as investment into research, development, machinery, even facilities to manufacture and store composts with reduced levels of peat.

However, as this research and development progresses, we continue to seek out alternatives which are able to replicate the invaluable properties of peat with more potentially viable alternatives becoming increasingly available.

Here at Bents…
We are looking to champion a significant change in our retail offer with all our composts now providing peat reductions. These range from a 25% reduction down to fully peat free options, depending on the specific type and the types of plants the compost is aimed at. We are also working with our commercial supplier partners to continue this reduction at pace.

Our onsite growing Nursery produces around 60% of the plants that we sell in in store and on our website and here again we are using composts with a 30 – 40% peat reduction whilst striving for further reductions over the next few years. Any plants that we buy in from third parties are all sourced from high quality Nurseries who are also following a similar trajectory of peat reduction.

One of the challenges faced is how to source and produce sufficient volumes of the alternatives to satisfy demand whilst also ensuring that the production of the alternatives does not generate an additional unwanted environmental impact.

International impact…
The Covid 19 pandemic resulted in a nationwide shortage of compost and soil improvers, and so – despite having products available – we struggled to maintain the range.

• 2020 Lockdown and furlough introduced 2.93 million people to the pleasure of gardening for the first time. Many are planting above ground in pots, baskets, troughs etc so the demand for compost has grown significantly. This demand continues.

• Covid and social distancing had a big impact on the supply chain. Most notably the import of coir – a significant element in many peat-free compost mixes – was severely disrupted. It is reported that at the end of 2020 there was only 10% of the normal stock levels in the UK for that time of year.

• Wood fibre is an excellent alternative to peat in composts but competition for it from other industries has led to shortages. Both the construction industry and energy providers have turned to wood in recent times and are buying up vast quantities for their needs. Additional planting will help to address this in the long-term. Ideally, government will look to support horticulture by matching the alleged subsidies that the energy providers receive and financially supporting increased research in to growing media.

Future Ambitions and Alternatives…
Whilst we would love to only offer peat-free compost (and very positively, several commercial grower trials have now been able to demonstrate the viability of producing crops using entirely peat free growing media) the reality is that there is currently not enough product available to allow the nation to continue gardening.

Currently suppliers are having to ration products it to ensure all parts of the country have some stock. With the physical, mental and social benefits of gardening being well documented we do see a need to ensure that gardening is accessible to all.

Here, at Bents, we are fully committed to the environment and looking after our green spaces is reflected in our Green Footprints. Whilst we are in regular contact with all our suppliers regarding this issue and continue to source as wide a range as possible, we also actively promote and encourage the use of alternative soil improvers such as organic fertilizer, chicken poultry manure and home compost bins.

We continue to offer as much peat-free compost as possible, but we are also working to ensure that Britain can keep growing sustainably.

(Source: Horticultural Trades Association)