Peat Deal Conserves Three UK Wildlife Site

LONDON, UK, March 27, 2002 (ENS) - An agreement has been worked out between the UK government and U.S. lawn and garden care corporation Scotts which will save three of the UK's top wildlife sites from being destroyed and end nearly all commercial peat cutting across the country.

The Irish Peatland Conservation Council and Friends of the Earth are celebrating the deal, which will secure over 1,500 hectares (3,706 acres) of peat moor as National Nature Reserves. The agreement reached late last month follows a 12 year long campaign by Friends of the Earth and the Peatlands Campaign Consortium.

Since 1991, the UK government agency English Nature has declared lowland peat bog to be a nationally rare and endangered habitat and has sought the protection of all remaining areas.


Scotts commercial peat works on Thorne Moor (Photo courtesy RSPB)
Scotts will receive 17 million (US$24,2 million) in compensation from the government to immediately hand over Thorne Moor Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in South Yorkshire and Wedholme Flow SSSI in Cumbria to English Nature.

Scotts will immediately give to English Nature half of Hatfield Moor SSSI in southern Yorkshire. Limited peat cutting will continue on the rest of this moor for two years before it is handed over to the nation.

In 2000, while Scotts was occupying the sites, the UK government designated Hatfield Moor, Thorne Moor and Wedholme Flow as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), under the EU Habitats Directive.

Craig Bennett, habitats campaigner at Friends of the Earth, offered congratulations to the government, but said, "It is disappointing that despite insisting on such a high compensation package, Scotts intends to continue extracting peat for a further two years. However, the tide has turned, and commercial peat extraction in the UK will soon be virtually ended."

Scotts markets lawn and garden products such as Scotts grass seed, Miracle-Gro potting mix and garden soil, Ortho and Roundup herbicides. Scotts Consumer Growing Media Group sells "organic products" such as branded value added potting soils, top soil, humus, peat, manures, soil conditioners, barks and mulches.

The UK National Trust explains that before the 1950s peat was only very rarely used for garden purposes, but then the horticultural industry became dependent on the development of peat as a reliable and consistent growing medium and soil improver.

"This has resulted in the destruction, degradation and fragmentation of lowland peatlands and their wildlife, archaeological and landscape interests," said the charity which acts as caretaker for over 248,000 hectares 612,000 acres) of countryside in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, including many gardens of importance.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says the Thorne and Hatfield Moors support a "staggering richness of species." They are inhabited by more than 3,000 species of insects, 800 flowering plants and hundreds of kinds of mosses, liverworts, lichens and fungi. Peatbogs are used by breeding, migrating and wintering birds, including golden plovers, hen harriers and nightjars, the society says.

No one alternative has yet been found which replicates all the properties of peat, but many alternatives have properties which match or better the performance of peat for a particular use.

The main alternative materials now being used in the UK are bark, wood waste, green waste, spent mushroom compost, cocoa shell and coconut coir; inorganic minerals such as Perlite and Vermiculite; paper and card wastes. Many of these materials are composted or otherwise processed before use.

In its ongoing campaign to protect the peatlands, Friends of the Earth has recently switched its campaign focus to retail outlets. As a result Homebase, Focus and Wyevale Country Gardens have all agreed to follow B&Q's lead and phase out peat based products.

Bennett said, "Gardeners must continue to say no to peat imports and only buy products labelled "peat free."

The Irish Peatland Conservation Council said, "The Scott's factories near these three sites, which currently package peat from across the British Isles, are well placed to manufacture and package peat-free growing media, notably that made from "green waste." This would place The Scotts Company, and these factories, at the forefront of new environmental technologies, and would provide local people with a strong stake in a sunrise industry."

Bennett said the Scotts deal will now focus attention on rival peat company Sinclairs, which may challenge the UK government in the courts over its plans to designate Bolton Fell SSSI in Cumbria - one of the few sites in the UK where peat extraction is continuing - as a Special Area of Conservation.