CONSERVATIONISTS and politicians have joined forces in calling for Scotland to end the “damaging” and “archaic” practice of commercial peat cutting for use by gardeners, which they say is destroying internationally important raised bogs that took more than 3,000 years to form.
Covering nearly a quarter of the country’s entire land area – around two million hectares – Scottish peatlands are globally recognised as a key store for climate-warming carbon.
The habitat also plays a crucial role in helping guard against flooding, purifying water and supporting rare native species.
But extraction of peat for the horticulture industry takes place at several sites, with 16 operations listed north of the Border last year.
Further applications are currently in the planning system.
Now campaigners from the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) and MSPs say the government should ban the practice since viable alternatives to peat are available to growers.
Dr Maggie Keegan, head of policy for the SWT, said: “Peatlands are some of Scotland’s most valuable natural capital assets, and digging them up is creating a debt that could take thousands of years to pay back.
“Many gardeners and allotment owners have used peat-free composts for years, showing that the archaic practice of destroying peat for horticulture is simply not needed for the production of quality compost.”
The issue was the subject of a Holyrood debate after a motion raised by Rural Affairs and Climate Change Committee convener Rob Gibson MSP received cross-party support.
The SNP member for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross says stronger measures are needed to stop commercial extraction of peat for horticulture and ensure restoration and protection of the important habitat.
He also highlighted the need to support the development of a viable long-term industry that can provide cost-effective and sustainable soil for both domestic and professional gardeners and growers.
UK government targets aim to halt retail peat sales by 2020 and horticultural use by 2030.
“That is the kind of thing we are asking the minister to consider here,” Mr Gibson said.
“But we also have to consider groups like the soft fruit growers, who have relied on peat to grow such wonderful crops as they have.
“It’s not something that can happen instantly and we are not calling for it to happen instantly.
“It is perfectly legal but we need to move away from this.
“Of course people will lose jobs and that is something we are aware of. So targets are an important step forward.
“We’ve got far more peat in Scotland than in the rest of the UK, in deep bogs and raised lowland bogs. That’s why we have got to step up to the plate.”
Dr Keegan added: “The trust hopes this debate will send a message to the Scottish Government that Scotland wants to be peat-free.”
Substitutes include imported coir, which has a high cost and a large carbon footprint.