AGM 2019 Peat-free report

The case against peat based compost involves climate change which has at last been so effectively pushed up the agenda by Extinction Rebellion. Climate change is more important than plastic pollution, more important than brexit bollocks, terrorism, knife crime, childhood obesity, poverty, business, jobs, profits, your child’s exam results (let them go on school strike).

The writing has been on the wall about the danger of climate change for long decades now. For nearly all of that time, governments & corporations have been living in serious denial, desperately clinging on to the hopeless fantasy of sustained economic growth on a finite planet. Governments should have been legislating against CO2 emissions from industry. They should have been educating citizens about just how serious the consequences of climate change are & preparing us for the significant changes that everyone must make if climate change is to be averted. But instead of encouraging low impact lifestyles, governments have continued to promote high emission, wasteful lifestyles in order to sustain economic growth. So now, even though a “climate emergency” has apparently been declared at the eleventh hour, 39% of new vehicles sold are 4 X 4s. It’s still acceptable for shops to have fan heaters blowing onto wide open doorways the size of goal mouths. Patio heaters abound outside pubs & restaurants. Many of the participants on “Gogglebox” can be seen to have their home heating set so high that they wear shorts & T shirts around the house even in the middle of winter. Narcissism is now so rampant that kids are buying clothes to pose in just once for a self obsessie & then immediately throwing them away. Aviation fuel is still untaxed.
There are far too many examples of normalised stupidity to list. If we fail to reduce global temperature rise by reducing greenhouse gas emissions then climate tipping points could be reached causing humans to lose control of the global warming process no matter what they then do. If we fail, those future generations will look back on us from a depleted planet with contempt & condemn us as those who had all the evidence of impending climate crisis but ignored it until it was too late.
The Amazon, California & the Australian bush have all been on fire this year. The health of the Great Barrier Reef has recently been knocked down another notch due to rising ocean temperature. Extreme weather events are happening all over the planet. Many of the scientists’ predictions about climate change are coming true, except faster than expected.
I recently returned from a climbing holiday in the Alps that was basically wrecked by climate change. The warming weather there has melted the permafrost that normally cements the permanently snow-covered high peaks together resulting in lethal levels of stone fall. The local mountain guide’s office was warning that nearly every high peak was out of bounds. Even professional mountain guides with decades of experience were being

killed. I was shocked when I revisited one of the largest & most famous glaciers – the Mer de Glace – to see most of the lower section ice has melted away & the ice surface is now covered in rock rubble. The glacier ice is predicted to completely vanish from that tourist visited area in just 15 years.

We as allotment gardeners should be much more in tune with, & respectful of, nature than most other citizens as we are pretty much at the mercy of the weather thrown at us each year. We should therefore be taking serious steps to reduce our own impact on the climate. One of many significant ways we are influencing our climate through CO2 emissions is our usage of peat based compost. Amateur growers use nearly twice as much compost containing peat as commercial growers. Source of figures?
Peat is formed when sphagnum moss grows in upland bogs, dies & falls below the surface of the bog water & is compressed by successive growth cycles. It forms at the painfully slow rate of about 1 millimetre per year (about the thickness of a postcard). We are extracting it thousands of times faster than it forms which is clearly completely unsustainable. Peat is a half way stage to coal formation. Peat bogs, like coal fields, are massive stores of carbon formed from CO2 in the air captured by photosynthesising plants over millennia.
The first stage of commercial peat extraction is to drain the bogs. Once peat dries it immediately starts to release its stored CO2 back into the atmosphere, just as coal does when it’s burned. This is happening on a colossal scale around the world. The draining of peat bogs also destroys the environment for many important species, especially amphibians such as frogs which, as a group of animals, are under more threat than any other. This is why we should be rapidly phasing out compost containing peat. If it doesn’t specifically say ‘peat free’ on the bag then it will contain peat. If a compost bag states that it doesn’t come from a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), that simply means that it’s been imported from somewhere in the world where they don’t give a jot about environmental regulations.
Some people will argue that peat compost is “better” than the peat free alternatives, better water retention perhaps. Their definition of better is too narrow as it doesn’t take into account the damage done. Asbestos has better high temperature insulating qualities than modern alternatives but that doesn’t mean we should be reverting to lagging our boilers & pipes with the deadly fluff. Maybe growers can provide opinions of the success or failure of peat free composts that they’ve tried. I’ll start by saying that Lidl peat free is no good for germinating seeds as it’s chemically enhanced with too many nutrients which seem to scorch them. Other results are very welcome.

John Hodges