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The BBC's Tim Hirsch
"We will have to completely rethink the way we plant our gardens in future"
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Friday, 25 August, 2000, 09:02 GMT 10:02 UK
Protection for peat bogs
peat bog
A raised peat bog: Hardly any still remain untouched
Environmentalists have welcomed government proposals to reduce the amount of peat which is dug up for use as garden compost.

Four peat-bogs in Yorkshire and Cumbria are among 81 wildlife sites in the UK which have been earmarked for protection as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC).

SAC designation is the strongest form of protection under European Wildlife laws.


The industry has worked in an extremely responsible fashion in the last 10 to 15 years

Alan Shaw
Peat Producers' Association

But the proposals, announced by deputy Prime Minister John Prescott on Thursday, could see the demise of more than half the country's peat production industry resulting in the loss of hundreds of jobs.

Environmental campaigners argue it is the right move due to the irreversible damage being done to some key conservation areas, home to unique mosses and insects.

Recent figures revealed that over two-thirds of the peat used in the UK is bought by gardeners, whose use has risen by 50% in the last four years.

Gardeners are slowly turning to alternatives but price still remains a determining factor in their choice - peat is still the cheapest option.

Groups such as Friends of the Earth and the RSPB have been campaigning for years for such measures to implemented in order to stop the peat industry from "ripping the heart out" of some of the country's most precious eco-systems.

Environmental responsibilities

Craig Bennett, of Friends of the Earth, told the BBC's Today programme that it took hundreds of years for peat to regenerate and that the peat industry was refusing to accept its environmental responsibilities.

He said: "For a long time the peat companies have been able to dominate the markets because they are taking this product for free effectively from our best wildlife sites.

"They can then flog it off cheap to gardeners, whereas to produce an alternative you have to recycle domestic green waste.

"The time has come now and it is right for the government to have taken this step and make sure that we do not see this industry continue to damage our very best wildlife sites," he said.

But members of the peat industry say they have acted responsibly and none of the UK's 9,000 hectares of peatland is under any threat from peat extraction.

They argue that hundreds of jobs could be at risk if the proposals go ahead and the move would also deeply affect the country's horticulturists, who rely on peat as their main source of compost.

Defiant

Alan Shaw of the Peat Producers' Association said: "The industry has worked in an extremely responsible fashion in the last 10 to 15 years.

"We have donated several hectares of peatland to English Nature to guarantee these lands' future in conversation," he said.

Nick Kirkbride is UK managing director of the Scotts company, a multinational American company which harvests peat from three of the four sites earmarked under the government's proposals.

He said: "We will continue to harvest peat because we do not believe we are harvesting from any sites of current conservational value.

"These are bogs of long standing use and are old bogs which have been worked for a considerable number of years," he added.

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See also:

02 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
Action urged to save peat bogs
23 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
Birdlovers demand ban on peat use
06 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
UK 'neglecting wildlife sites'
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