Thursday, September 23, 1999 Published at 02:04 GMT 03:04 UK
Birdlovers demand ban on peat use
Peat bogs like this one in Yorkshire are being dug up, mainly for garden use
By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby
One of the United Kingdom's most respected conservation groups, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), says the peat industry's voluntary attempts to halt the destruction of wildlife sites have failed.
The RSPB says official figures show that in four years the use of peat as a soil conditioner by gardeners has increased by 50%, with 70% of all peat used in the UK being bought by them.
Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB's director of conservation, said: "There can no longer be any excuses for promoting the use of peat in gardens, as the cost to peatland wildlife is unacceptable.
"Peat alternatives are now widely available and should be used by all responsible gardeners. The growing number of gardening programmes highlights the need for experts to stop using peat and to promote alternatives."
British lowland raised peat bogs form a unique wetland habitat for birds, such as golden plovers, for many insects, including rare beetles and dragonflies, and for plants like the insectivorous sundew.
But the RSPB says 94% of the bogs have already been lost. It wants the UK Government to ban the commercial extraction and use of peat by 2005, and to stop all peat extraction on sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) within six months.
The problem with SSSIs is that they give a special designation to valuable habitats, without giving them matching protection.
"Twelve key peatland SSSIs are currently being exploited, yet their SSSI status provides little protection from the destruction," says Dr Avery.
As part of its plan to save the bogs, the RSPB is challenging gardening writers and broadcasters to declare their support for a total peat ban.
Four members of Parliament with constituencies in the UK's biggest peat-producing area, around Thorne and Hatfield moors in South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, are supporting the RSPB's proposals for a peat ban.
One, Ian Cawsey, MP for Brigg and Goole, said: "A thriving peat alternatives industry would provide significant employment opportunities, and would avoid the need to exploit peat bogs outside the UK".