16 MAR 2022
WHAT IS PEAT?
Peat is one of the world’s most valuable natural resources. Not in immediate monetary terms like oil but if you consider the future of our planet, peat is priceless. And peat’s value, unlike oil, relies on humans leaving it where it is – in the bogs where it was formed. Its role as a carbon store is what makes it so crucial to our future. The world’s peat bogs hold more carbon than the forests of Britain, Germany and France combined.
Peat has several other benefits vital to nature. Many scarce species of flora and fauna live in peatlands without which they would not survive. This is a direct result of peat’s ability to retain water, holding up to 20 times its own weight, thereby creating unique and thriving wetland ecosystems. In addition, peat is an archaeologist’s dream. Human remains and other objects can lie in peat bogs with minimal decay over millennia.
To deliver all the above benefits, it’s crucial that peatlands remain wet. Unfortunately, for centuries humans have drained peatlands releasing tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere contributing to unwanted climate change. A study by Natural England showed that exposed peat soils can release up to 38 tonnes of CO2 per hectare annually, whereas wet peat bogs can soak up a tonne of CO2 per hectare per year.
Peat forms when partially decomposed plant material accumulates in waterlogged areas and gradually gets compacted. These wetlands typically have a high acid content which prevents total decomposition. This process, known as hydrosere, starts in open water and over time, as the compaction occurs, proceeds through fen stages and finally to denser bogs.
In Northern Europe, especially the British Isles and Scandinavia, peat bogs have long been used to provide a source of fuel. Farmers dig out wet bricks of peat, press them to squeeze out water and then dry them. These dry bricks are then burned to heat homes and businesses.
Most people encounter peat in the large bags of compost sold in garden centres. Peat has been a popular growing medium despite being heavy and messy. However, the UK government has rightly banned its use in compost from 2024 due to the many negative outcomes listed above associated with its extraction from bogs. Thankfully coir compost like For Peat’s Sake is an even better choice. It’s light, clean, provides a superb growing medium and is renewable with none of the environmental downsides of peat extraction. In conclusion, let’s hear it for peat, glorious peat! But let’s leave it in bogs where it belongs.