Peat bogs in Northern Ireland are coming under an increasing threat from gardening enthusiasts, according to a report.
WWF wants to protect peat bogs
The conservation organisation WWF Northern Ireland says amateur gardeners are responsible for two thirds of all peat consumption and use almost twice as much peat as professional growers.
The report, which comes out as thousands of people enjoy the Chelsea Flower Show, cites the popularity of gardening programmes and the public's desire for instant gardens for a huge growth in the use of peat.
The report, published on Wednesday in association with Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring network, says the use of peat is increasing so rapidly local suppliers cannot not meet demand.
As a result, peat has to be imported from the Republic of Ireland or countries such as Latvia and Estonia.
The retail market for peat in the UK has increased by almost 50% in the past 10 years, despite the fact that lowland raised peat bogs are a rare habitat for wildlife, the report says.
Composts made from garden and kitchen waste provide plants with more nutrients
It adds that approximately 2,000 hectares of peat bogs are destroyed in the Republic of Ireland each year to supply peat to consumers in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Malachy Campbell, from WWF Northern Ireland, said: "Rare and ancient peat habitats locally and around the world could be lost forever, yet demand from consumers continues to rise.
"WWF believes that a change in consumer attitudes is required if we are to prevent peat bogs locally or elsewhere in the world being destroyed to provide compost.
"Composts made from garden and kitchen waste provide plants with more nutrients and can be easily made in your garden or obtained from some local councils."
Peat extraction from several bogs, including Ballynahone Bog in Northern Ireland, has been prevented following years of campaigning by conservation groups.
But the report points to indications that in Northern Ireland more than 90% of lowland raised peat bogs have been destroyed.
WWF Northern Ireland also says local draft targets for the use of peat-free alternatives are five years behind UK targets.
A number of large retail outlets have committed themselves to the replacement of peat with peat-free alternatives.