Who uses peat?
In the UK, the four main market sectors that
use peat are amateur gardeners, the professional horticultural
industry, the private landscaping industry and local authorities.
Figure 1 shows the proportion of peat used by each market sector
in 2001. Amateur gardeners and the professional horticultural
industry account for 66% and 32.9% of the total peat usage respectively.
The private landscaping sector and local authority sectors account
for 0.4% and 0.7%.
Amateur gardening is the sector that uses by far the largest
amount of peat in the UK. There was a substantial increase in
the total level of peat consumption between 1993 and 1996.20
This was largely due to the increase in ‘patio gardening’
and the relatively low price of peat grow bags and multi-purpose
composts sold by the multiple retailers. The increase was partly
fuelled by the popularity of gardening programmes on television
and the public’s desire for ‘instant gardens’.
However, in recent years the level of peat consumption has stayed
It should be noted that the figure for the amount of peat used
by amateur gardeners does not include that purchased indirectly
when pot plants are purchased from retail outlets. For pot plants
produced in the UK this data is included in the professional
grower peat consumption data. Data concerning the amount of
peat used indirectly through the import of potted plants was
not included in the data sets looked at.
There are several thousand professional growers of horticultural
crops, such as ornamental plants and glasshouse vegetables,
in the UK who use substantial quantities of peat. The available
data indicates that professional growers do not use peat as
a soil improver. They are however important purchasers of growing
media, the vast majority (92%) of which is peat. Table1 and
Figure 2 show the peat used by the various sectors of professional
growers in England and Wales in 2000.
Table 1: Peat use by professional
growers by sector for England & Wales(2000)21
% of total
|Container Nursery Stock
Container nursery stock
This sector of professional growers uses the most peat. Many
nursery stock growers mix their own substrates and therefore
purchase raw peat rather than ready-made products. Much of this
is imported from the Baltic States where peat is cheaper.
Peat is used by the mushroom industry as a casing material.
Recent research by the Horticultural Research Institute has
found that a mixture of bark fines and fine particle tailings22
provide a good alternative to peat casing and has no impact
on yield when used to replace up to 30% of the peat. The 100%
bark/tailings mixes trialled gave about 80-90% of the yield
of peat casing however.23
Since bark is 30% more expensive than peat, it is not considered
economic on a commercial scale to completely replace peat. The
volume of peat used for casing in the UK has reduced since 2000.
This is mainly due to farm closures, due to competition from
imports, but is also due to an increase in the use of tailings
in casing material (about 2500m3 is used per year).24 A list
of some of the main UK mushroom producers can be found in Appendix
This sector is a major user of peat. Trials by the Horticultural
Development Council25 and on commercial nurseries have shown
that there are a range of materials that can be used to successfully
grow bedding plants. The key to success is in the adaptation
of management to the different media.
A larger percentage of pot plants sold in the UK, compared
with bedding/nursery stock plants are imported, mainly from
Holland. The growing medium used is often 100% peat, however
data was not available concerning how much peat is imported
into the UK in this way.
This is the main sector showing a significant increase
in peat use in the last few years, due to the increase in production
of strawberries in peat bags rather than in the soil. This has
been in response to problems with soil-borne diseases and demands
from supermarkets for high quality standards. Reliable alternatives
to peat for strawberry growing are already available. For example,
there been widespread adoption of coir in strawberry bag systems
in the Netherlands.
Peat is used for forcing of bulbs to produce cut flowers
and also for pot bulbs sold in planted containers/bowls. It
is likely that a wide range of materials could be used instead
of peat for this purpose, although many would carry a higher
Vegetable transplant/salads/cut flowers
Young plants are raised in either peat blocks or modules/plugs
in trays. Peat blocks are widely used for raising seedlings
of vegetables, lettuce and cut flower crops (e.g. Chrysanthemum,
Alstroemeria). Suitable alternative materials for use in this
sector include coir and fine bark, however management regimes
may need to be adapted.
Private Sector Landscapers
There are approximately 2000 landscape contractors
operating in the UK. They use very little peat, since they use
mainly soil improvers rather than growing media and tend not
to use peat based products for this purpose.
There are over 500 local authorities in the UK which
are responsible for the maintenance of amenities such as parks,
gardens and playing fields. As with landscape contracting, local
authorities tend to use mainly soil improvers rather than growing
media, almost 100% of which are peat alternatives. 2001 saw
an increased use of growing media by some local authorities
however (41,900m3 compared to 13,800m3 in 1999), 60% of which
were peat-based. Whilst some councils claim to have gone peat
free, there may still be peat present in the pots of the plants
which they obtain from commercial growers.