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Wednesday, 2 February, 2000, 02:08 GMT
Action urged to save peat bogs

peat bog A raised peat bog: Hardly any still remain untouched


By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says the UK Government and the peat extraction industry must stop delaying the end of extraction work on the country's most important peatlands.

On peat bogs which are also part of sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs), the RSPB says all work should cease before the new extraction season begins - it suggests 1 April as the cut-off point.

The RSPB says the government's biodiversity action plan for peatlands, published in October 1999, set 2010 as the target for replacing 90% of the peat used today with substitutes.

It says 70% of the peat used in the UK is accounted for by gardeners, whose use has risen by half in the last four years.

It says there are "still no signs of clear government action" to achieve the 2010 target.

Disappointed

Its peatlands policy officer, Dr Olly Watts, told BBC News Online: "We can understand why the plan did not spell out how to reach the target.

"But we are disappointed that the peat working group report which came out a month later does not go far enough in prescribing action to protect SSSIs, and also to encourage alternatives to peat."


dragonfly Dragonflies and other species rely on the peat
The working group, which meets under the auspices of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), includes five members of the Peat Producers' Association, representing the industry.

It also includes conservation interests, the RSPB among them. Some members fear that the new Countryside Bill, which is meant to give greater protection to SSSIs, may be too weak and too late to save the peat wetlands.

Promote alternatives

According to the RSPB, 85% of peat extraction takes place on or close to an SSSI.

Dr Watts says: "If the industry is serious about helping to protect wildlife, it should end extraction on SSSIs and find other ways to give gardeners and growers the products they need by putting more investment into peat alternatives.

"If the government wanted to end peat extraction on SSSIs, it could do it tomorrow. The powers are there."

Reclamation

The Peat Producers' Association says that of almost 9,000 hectares of pristine or nearly pristine peatland in the UK, none is under "any threat whatsoever from peat extraction".

"Where SSSI sites are worked for peat, agreements are in place with the responsible statutory bodies to ensure a conservation after-use."

The Department of the Environment (DETR) says there is no target for replacing 90% of peat use by 2010, but the latest figures show that alternatives account for 32% of the total, with an upward trend.

It says no areas of peatland SSSI with planning permission affect areas of current nature conservation importance.

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See also:
23 Sep 99 |  Sci/Tech
Birdlovers demand ban on peat use
06 Sep 99 |  Sci/Tech
UK 'neglecting wildlife sites'

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