The government has confirmed the sale of peat-based compost for use on private gardens and allotments will be banned in England from 2024.
The announcement follows an extensive public consultation, which received more than 5,000 responses with more than 95% in favour of government taking action to ban retail peat sales.
Peatlands are the UK’s largest carbon store but only around 13% are said to be in a near-natural state, with the degradation a result of drainage for agricultural use, overgrazing and burning as well as extraction for use in growing media.
According to the government, bagged peat sold by retailers accounts for 70% of the peat sold in the UK and is frequently misused – for example, being used as a soil improver rather than a medium in which to propagate plants.
When this extraction takes place, the carbon stored inside the bog is released as carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change.
The latest measure will support efforts to achieve the UK’s ambitious target of restoring 35,000 hectares of peatlands by 2025 and wider efforts to achieve net zero.
Peatlands also provide habitats to some of the most threatened wildlife in the UK.
The government will continue to work closely with the professional horticulture sector to speed up its transition to peat-free alternatives ahead of a ban for the industry.
Environment Minister Richard Benyon said: “This government understands the importance of keeping peat healthy and in the ground, here and around the world – to lock up carbon, strengthen drought resilience and serve as a powerful nature-based solution to climate change.
“The actions announced today mark a new chapter in the story of our iconic peatlands – safeguarding their long term health and vitality as part of our commitments to achieve net zero and deliver our 25-Year Environment Plan.”
The government is also launching a new £5 million fund to promote the use of peatlands for sustainable farming.
It will support the uptake of paludiculture – the practice of farming on rewetted peatland – which is expected to further safeguard food security, produce alternatives to horticultural peat and reduce environmental impacts.
Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England added: “Peatlands are precious ecosystems that harbor beautiful and fascinating wildlife, shape the character of iconic landscapes, purify water and help to reduce flood risk. They are also our largest natural carbon stores, locking away over 580 million tonnes.
“This ban on the sale of peat-based compost and work to phase out use in other areas is an essential step toward protecting these valuable natural assets and allowing for the recovery of degraded areas.”