Peat-Free Bisley

BCCS’s most important message this year to members and all gardeners is: ‘Try to avoid peat or peat-based composts in your garden and aim to buy plants grown in peat-free media.’

See also – Peat-Free Bisley Resources Page

Why was peat used in the first place? What happened in the 1970’s? At Stroud’s Stratford Park … “Peat based composts weren’t adopted by Stratford Park until the early 70s, not until Fred Underwood the Head Propagator had retired. Fred wouldn’t use peat-based composts on principle, he considered them inappropriate, overrated and something of a fad.”
But the “fad” was heavily marketed, was apparently cheap, and for commercial producers made great profits – very easy to take what Mother Earth has developed over aeons as an endless ‘resource’, ignore its wildlife, extract it and sell it. But nature pays us back – carbon emissions contributing to climate change, loss of a unique habitat.

Bisley Community Composting Scheme information panel on the need to stop using peat based composts. Titled "For Peat's Sake".

Click this image of our For Peat’s Sake poster to see it at full size, if you wish to read the smaller text. We produced this poster over 10 years ago, but the message is still current!

There has been little progress towards the ‘voluntary’ targets to ban peat from horticulture, set by the government in 2010. Peat still constitutes 50% of all potting composts. And, despite these targets, most of the plants sold in pots in garden centres and nurseries, and those supplied as plugs by the big companies, are still grown in peat-based composts. So peat bogs are plundered, peat bog biodiversity continues to collapse and releases of carbon gases rise, adding to the climate emergency. Amateur gardeners will not be able to buy peat-based composts after 2024. The timeframe for the commercial sector is, however, much longer.
What are the alternatives to peat-based composts? Most large DIY stores and garden centres stock a range of peat-free composts. And, if you have time, you could make your own potting composts (see the BCCS website). One difficulty with commercial peat-free products is that nearly all of them are based on coir (from coconuts) which has to be imported, mostly from Sri Lanka and India. This may bring benefits to those countries but has drawbacks in terms of the energy used to extract the coir pith and then to transport it to this country. Another problem for consumers is that there is often little or no information on just what is used in making these composts.
Bisley Allotment holder Charles Tongue has been campaigning, dreaming about a time when no peat will be extracted. It is possible to become peat-free and BCCS believes that peat should be eliminated from all gardening products as soon as possible. But beware – the quality of some of the products is poor. We all need to campaign for good quality and properly labelled peat-free compost to become widely available.