PEAT is made up of the partly decomposed remains of plants. It forms on waterlogged ground where a lack of oxygen in the water prevents microbes from breaking down the dead vegetation. Any plant can form peat, but the type that gardeners are particularly interested in is the ‘moss peat’ formed by dead Sphagnum mosses.
Sphagnum are remarkable plants. Their cells are capable of holding large quantities of water and the whole plant acts like a sponge. In the uplands Sphagnum forms ‘blanket bogs’ that cover the whole landscape, while in the lowlands they can form ‘raised bogs’ which rise up above the surrounding landscape, absorbing and storing rainwater.
The specialised structure of Sphagnum mosses has been their downfall, as it is retained by the dead plant, even when partly decomposed as peat. The water-holding properties of ‘moss peat’ undeniably make it an excellent base for compost.
The bogs formed by Sphagnum mosses are rich in wildlife, including several species of heather and insectivorous plants such as sundews and butterworts. This variety of plants supports a wide range of insects and other invertebrates, which in turn support birds such as Hen Harrier, Black Grouse, Snipe and Short-eared owl. Peat bogs are not only rich in wildlife, however; they store large quantities of carbon which, if exposed to the air, forms carbon dioxide and contributes to global warming.
In order to get the peat that ends up in a bag of compost, peat bogs, together with their wildlife, have to be completely destroyed. And, although many peat bogs in Britain are now protected from exploitation, the compost companies have simply moved their operations abroad, destroying peat bogs overseas.
We believe that it is wrong to wreck whole habitats, together with their plants and animals, in order to grow flowers to decorate our gardens. For this reason, we do not use peat-based composts. Alternatives are available, and as more people use them, they are getting better and better. Please join us in going ‘peat-free’.