In all 17 raised bogs in England and 24 in Scotland have permission
for peat extraction, 12 of which have been (at least partly) notified
as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
In August 2001, the government notified several areas as potential
"Special Areas for Conservation" (pSAC). Four of them
affect peat extraction sites - Thorne Moor, Hatfield Moor and two
sites near Carlisle in Cumbria (Wedholme
Flow GR215525, mined by Scotts and L&P Peat and Bolton
Fell GR487698 mined by Wm Sinclair). However, there are several
steps before they are actually approved, and even then it is not
clear whether peat production will have to stop. These sites between
them comprise about 60% of the peat production of the UK so the
peat industry will no doubt be lobbying fairly hard against the
It would be highly unusual if a peat bog with SSSI status got a
new permission to extract peat. The reason why so much peat is taken
from SSSI land is because permissions were given in the 1940s and
50s before the conservation designations were given. It is possible
for a local council to rescind permission on a site, but they are
usually reluctant to do so, as it involves paying large compensation
packages to the company who own the peat extraction rights
Demand for peat has been increasing in recent years. The DETR claims
that peat use may have increased by 46% between 1993 and 1999. This
can be attributed to 'patio gardening' coming into fashion, growbags
becoming cheaper, and the anti-peat campaign of the late 1980s fading
from the public consciousness.
Around two-thirds of the peat consumption in the UK is done by
amateur gardeners. The remainder goes on commercial agriculture
(eg. mushrooms, lettuces) and landscaping, especially golf courses.
The UK also imports a significant amount of peat. To date the majority
of this has come from the Irish Republic (70% in 1999), but also
peat comes from the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea. These
imports can be expected to increase as the economies of former communist
states are opened up further to the tentacles of western capitalism.
Imports are rising at an alarming rate. In just 2 years, from 1997
to 1999, they rose from 0.86 million cubic metres to 1.26 million
cubic metres. The bulk of imported peat is used by commercial growers
rather than going into bagged compost for garden centres.
Peat alternatives have greatly improved in recent years in matching
the highly prized qualities of peat. But still they remain a fraction
of the market: the figures for peat used as a growing medium by
gardeners show that only 6% of the amount of peat alternatives are
used as peat. Local Authorities manage to do much better, using
on average nearly twice as high a proportion of peat alternatives
as peat for the same purpose - maybe some have policies against
peat use floating around.
The commercial body which looks after the peat industry is the
Peat Producers Association. It currently has 23 members and looks
after lobbying and PR for them.
Peat production in the UK is only for horticulture. There is currently
no usage of peat for burning in power stations, as takes place in
Ireland and Scandinavia.
Some of the information for this article was
taken from the ADAS
report into the state of the peat industry and the potential for