I don't always agree with Charles Clover but he is always worth reading. Last weekend he was arguing that there is a lot of unfinished business with forestry - a line not that dissimilar from our own in the RSPB. And although Charles's article in the Sunday Times is pretty robustly written our view is simply that this is an opportunity for further improvement in how our forests and other land are managed by the FC. It seems as though Jonathon Porritt is catching up with this view too in an article also hidden behind Rupert Murdoch's pay-wall in The Times. The Guardian also had another think about the issue. Government would be wrong if they thought that this issue will simply melt away like a Sitka spruce in the fog.
And our joint proposal with other NGOs and buiness for a UK peat levy was picked up in the Irish Times as well as the Telegraph, BBC online and Daily Express.
Think that 300,000 cars on road looks good except when compared to 30 million on the road now if we cut down on them,planes and all the military vehicles we may do some good,suggest what happens with peat mainly outside of U K control.
mirlo - great comment, thank you. I don't agree with all of it but it's a great comment thank you.
Yes peat bogs are being damaged in lots of ways across the world - hardly a justification for us to damage ours.
I'm not an expert on horticulture - but many people tell me that peat alternatives are perfectly good for almost all uses. There is always reluctance to change - the removal of lead in petrol was going to bring us to our knees - it didn't.
I didn't say the problem arose in the 1990s.
Maximising species diversity is not what nature conservation is about. There aren't many species in the Arctic but polar bears are still important.
Mark you are quoted as saying
A/“It really is incredible that a product as hugely damaging to our environment as peat is still being widely consumed in the UK. Despite attempts to tackle this issue in the 1990s, little has been achieved aside from exporting damaging peat extraction overseas,”.
B/ “A financial incentive is vital if we are to change the behaviour of consumers and encourage the horticultural industry to invest in alternatives. Rigorous studies have shown that good peat free composts work just as well – Kew Gardens is just one notable example of a peat free garden which is thriving.
C/ “We have got rid of lead in our petrol, CFCs in our aerosols and DDT in our countryside – so why is this dinosaur industry still lumbering along causing untold damage to our environment?”
Being an ecologist who has run a horticultural business for 25 years also with an interest in bryology I have quite a bit of experience of peat bogs, peat composts,etc. As a student at uni I also worked in the holidays on the Solway mosses in the peat harvesting industry. Formerly the peat was extracted in blocks and stacked to dry. The worked peat moss then was a mosaic of wet ditches and dry areas, also with a mosaic of plant communities and there was a good and varied population of wildlife. About 20 years ago surface milling then came about on a more industrial scale and the peat bog became a wildlife desert. This change in harvesting to me is the biggest problem.
A/ Mark you talk of exporting peat harvesting overseas . Do you realise that through most of northern Europe vast tracts of peat bog is being or has been ploughed, partly drained and planted with timber crops. Fertilisers are applied and the peat substrate is aerated by the ploughing which speeds up decomposition and releases CO2.
Finland and Russia (and Ireland) both generate much of their electricity from peat fired power stations. If you research the amounts of peat consumed in these industries it makes UK peat consumption tiny in comparison.
You say that the problem arose in the 1990s and nothing much has changed. This is because no reliable and as efficient substitute alternative compost component has been found to take the place of peat. If there was one do you not think that the horticulture industry would be using it ??!. Over the years I have tried several different peat free composts as growing media. They either dry out quickly or those made from recycled garden waste are full of weed seeds and disease.
The problem of deforestation of the Amazon was also in vogue in the 1990s and nothing has happened here either. Which is more important our miniscule peat industry or the Amazon?
Hugely damaging to our environment ?? The damage to our environment if such exists has been caused by industry, transport , cement manufacture, household fuels etc. Peat has been the whipping boy. Why is not all of this effort concentrated on banning transportation via aeroplanes?
B/ A financial penalty will not deter people from buying peat based composts. I am sure that people like Sooty will pay up their extra £1 and carry on. Kew gardens is not your typical example. They have a large number of staff, I presume a vast budget and a compost heap the size of a football field. They may be able to water their potted plants or seedlings several times each day and indeed probably have automatic watering systems, but the majority of us can not. OK a garden can quite easily be peat free and so can domestic gardens. Composted bark or home made mulches can be readily used to enrich the soil, but try and grow a plant in a pot using this type of organic matter and problems arise.
C/ A dinosaur industry it is not. It is a relatively new industry. When I was younger people came to the nursery to buy field grown plants and they were dug up and wrapped in newspaper. If you tried to do this now people would laugh in your face. The demand is for potted garden plants which can be bought anytime and planted anytime. Supply and demand is what is fuelling peat use from the general public and also the vast expansion of the horticultural industry brought about by peat usage. Does the fact that there are an awful lot of gardens with an awful lot of plants in the UK not compensate somewhat for peat usage.
Some Myths about Peat Bogs
One of the big daily broadsheets today said that all of the blanket bog had been harvested on the pennines for the fertile soil which it contained or something along these lines. As far as I am aware blanket bog in the pennines has never been harvested commercially. It may have been drained because the government gave a grant for this to happen !!
Another article said that peat bogs were teaming with wildlife. The facts are that the productivity and diversity of a pristine raised bog is one of the lowest of any natural habitat in the UK. Raised bogs with a few areas colonised by trees and with a few ponds and blocked drainage ditches have much more diversity containing dragonflies and many other insect species which form the base of a food chain for many other animals.
Lowland raised mires do not contain any species that cannot be found on blanket bog in the west of Scotland. Some species of sphagnum such as s. fuscum , s.pulchrum and s.austinii are rare in England and found in small amounts on the solway raised mosses, but most of them are very common in Scotland as is the large heath butterfly.
The solway mosses are now being rewetted, previously they contained a lowland breeding population of red grouse which are now extinct and other breeding birds have been lost. Some of the clumps of trees which have been removed from the mosses held breeding raptors. Heather is being removed along with the insect biodiversity which it held. To be honest the peat bogs being harvested when I worked t.here 25 years ago held more species diversity than they do now!!
How do we know that without ,mans intervention a natural succession from raised peat bogs to woodland would not have taken place. I personally believe that after seeing places which have a cooler and wetter climate than we have such as Tierra del Fuego that peat bogs would not be expanding in England anyway. In Tierra del Fuego the sphagnum kills the trees as it spreads.
I very much agree that the last thing we need is to leave forestry as unfinished business - much though the Government might like to kick what has been a disaster for them way into touch.
As you've said all along, Mark, the Forestry Commission needs a remit not just for the future but even for what it is now: the whole debate has been bedevilled by the preception that FC is no more than a failed timber business - which is plain wrong and the public have shown that they know it.
Part of the problem has been people like Charles Clover and Sir Simon Jenkins of the National Trust commentating on the basis of the FC of 20 or 30 years ago - I would say to them before you say any more get up to date with what FC is doing today then you might understand why to the people who actually know and use England's National Forests today's FC is miles away from being a 'Stalinist Organisation'.
The huge gap up till now is that FC has had no voice - if it had it would have been able to point out that far from going too slowly on restoring ancient woodlands it has listened to bodies like the Woodland Trust (one wonders where the criticism came from as WT seem to be the Government's main source on ancient woodland ?) which supported gradual restoration to avoid further damage during restoration- and if anything has criticised FC for going too fast in the south east in particular - a view very different from that of RSPB's close partner Butterfly Conservation which this month celebrates the achievement of both RSPB and FC in a huge reversal of fortunes for some of our most frafgile butterflies thanks to the superb SE England woodland Butterfly project recently completed.
I'm sure it would help considerably if the Irish officially expressed support for a levy on natural peat sales in the UK, as, I think about 60% of the natural peat sold in this Country is imported from Irish Republic. However given the current very difficult state of the Irish economy it will want a fair amount of courage for them to do that.
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