Ministers must regulate the horticulture industry if it fails to take rapid steps to ensure the phase-out of peat-based products by amateur gardeners by 2020, Friends of the Earth said today.The call follows the government's response to a report by its Sustainable Growing Media Task Force, which was set up to advise Ministers on how to achieve their ambition for the horticultural sector.The new £1 million pot for research to help the gardening industry end its reliance on peat was announced by Environment Minister Richard Benyon.The Task Force, comprised of retailers, manufacturers and growers, was set up to help the horticulture industry manage the transition from using increasingly scarce supplies of peat to using sustainable growing products such as compost from garden waste."Britain is a nation of gardeners but peat is a precious and finite resource and we need to find alternatives for gardening before it runs out" said Benyon."I’m delighted that the task force has shown us the way forward. The horticultural sector has already made great strides towards reducing its reliance on peat but I want to see more alternatives developed. The research project I’m announcing today should help them do just that."The horticultural industry is over-reliant on peat and the second consecutive poor peat harvest across Europe is predicted to lead to shortages of growing media and increased prices, with peat being imported into the UK from abroad.Friends of the Earth welcomed the announcement but urged minister's to act if the industry has not made progress by 2015."Peat bogs in the UK and abroad are crucial wildlife habitats and store huge amounts of carbon – it’s astounding that dinosaurs in the horticulture sector are still digging them up to use on our gardens" said Craig Bennett, policy and campaigns director for Friends of the Earth."The Government's continuing ambition to phase out peat is extremely welcome, but Ministers must make it clear they will regulate if firms fail to take immediate steps to make this happen.""Forward thinking horticultural firms have already woken up to fact that their future lies in producing peat-free composts and safeguarding the precious environment we all rely on – the rest of the industry must follow suit."But the announcement of over £600k of new Government research funding to overcome the growing media challenges faced by commercial growers is good news for the industry but 'part of a confusing message from Government,' the NFU said.
"While we welcome that Government has accepted in principle that the agenda needs to be widened out and focus on the sustainability of all growing media materials, and not just peat, it is a little disappointing that it is not yet willing to fully embrace this new approach. Government is saying that before adopting this approach into policy it needs the definition of what makes a growing media sustainable to be developed and agreed," said NFU horticultural adviser Dr Chris Hartfield.
"The result is that this Government response, while supporting the sustainable growing media approach on the one hand, continues with ‘peat reduction’ language that relates to existing Government policies – which will make this broadly positive response fairly confusing for many.""Government has committed to a peat policy review in 2015, but until then it looks like it will continue to juggle with talking about both support for a sustainable approach covering all growing media materials, and support for efforts to specifically reduce peat use."
"We need to take a bit of time now to discuss this response with members and other stakeholders before feeding-back our detailed thoughts to Government."