A public consultation ran from 17 February to 12 May 2023 to gather views on proposals for ending the sale of peat in Scotland. In total, 552 consultation responses were received from 469 individuals and 83 organisations. The largest number of respondents were individual hobby gardeners (61%). This was followed by respondents representing organisations including professional gardeners and commercial growers (5%), environmental organisations (4%), retail plant sales organisations (2%), growing media producers (2%) and the whisky industry (1%).
Use of peat
Just over one quarter of all respondents (27%) stated that they do not, or no longer, use peat. Among those who do and answered the question, the most common use of peat was amateur gardening (59%), followed by heating with 17% extracting their own peat and 14% buying peat for fuel. These percentages were driven by individuals. Almost half of organisations who responded use peat to grow ornamentals (29%) or fruit and vegetables (19%), and a further 16% in professional gardening. One quarter (26%) sell peat or products containing peat in their retail outlets, and 17% use it in food and drink production, specifically whisky.
One third of those who answered (33%) stated that peat alternatives are readily available and clearly labelled in their local retail outlets. However, some described it as challenging to find peat-free alternatives, citing limited stock and choice at local outlets or inconsistent provision across different stores. Several respondents said they had not tried to find peat-free alternatives before because they only use homemade compost or peat-based products.
Almost nine in ten (88%) respondents felt environmental considerations were either very important or important to their choice of growing media. Performance was far more likely to be very important for organisations (78%) than individuals (29%), particularly organisations in retail plant sales (91%) and growing media (86%).
Labelling of horticultural products
Three fifths (58%) stated that they are provided with sufficient information on growing media packaging or signage about whether growing media contains peat. A lower proportion (28%) stated they had sufficient information about the environmental impact of the contents of the growing media.
The vast majority of respondents (90%) felt there should be more information about the growing medium present in potted plants, either to help them make an informed decision (38%) or to avoid buying plants in peat (52%). Many described labels as lacking in information, accuracy or clarity. Potted plants were seen as particularly poorly labelled, with many respondents noting they often find it difficult to decipher which materials or ingredients are present. A few raised concerns that packaging can be deliberately misleading to conceal the presence of peat.
Challenges in indicating whether or not peat is present in growing medium within pots were raised by several respondents. These included logistical issues, such as additional costs and resources that would be incurred, including time, resources, and printing and labelling facilities and materials. Others focussed on difficulties in determining whether or not peat has been used in products due to a lack of transparency in the supply chain.
Moving away from using peat
Over two thirds (69%) stated they could stop using peat now, and 31% stated they could not. The ability to stop using peat was very mixed by respondent type. Individuals were far more likely than organisations to say they could stop (74% compared to 43% respectively), with many hobby gardeners (90%) indicating they had already moved away from using peat. Retail plant sale organisations were relatively evenly split, with 42% able to stop and 58% unable. However, growing media and whisky organisations held firm views, with 75% of the former and all of the latter stating they could not stop peat use.
Many respondents stated they could not stop using peat as it was essential to their business or personal use, or would stop only if alternatives were available. The two main reasons why respondents felt they could not stop using peat were the availability of alternatives (60%) and the cost implications (56%). Environmental and whisky organisations did not raise cost as an issue.
The performance of peat compared to alternatives was a key consideration alongside availability and cost for 73% of professional gardeners / commercial growers and all growing media organisations. Growing media alternatives were generally considered higher cost, lower quality, and of variable consistency. Respondents described how moving to the use of alternatives required significant investment in research and development and new machinery.
Whilst 89% of individuals, including 92% of hobby gardeners, felt peat was not needed for propagation, this reduced to 51% amongst organisations. These organisations highlighted plants that they deemed to require peat for successful and healthy growth, and argued that peat makes growing easier and yields better success rates, meaning a ban on the commercial sale of peat may significantly impact businesses and the mass production of ornamentals, fruit and vegetables. As a result, there were calls for improvements to the quality of peat-free alternatives and consideration of their commercial viability and environmental impact before implementing a ban on the sale of peat.
Some respondents outlined when they could realistically stop using peat, though others suggested it was impossible to predict a date, due to a lack of knowledge about when alternatives would be available. A few mentioned, in order of prevalence: between 2030 and 2050; by 2030; 2024; 2023; 2025; and 2026. Some other respondents argued that the use of peat should stop immediately. Organisations involved in professional horticulture preferred a later start date of 2028-2030 to give time for the sector to find suitable replacements, upscale delivery and purchase new equipment.
Overall, three fifths (62%) indicated that there should be a ban on all/most peat sales, with a further 12% supporting a ban on all horticultural peat sales. One in five (19%) disagreed. A majority of both individuals and organisations were in favour of some form of ban, though organisations were less firm in their views. 65% of individuals and 47% of organisations stated there should be a ban on all/most peat sales, with 18% and 29%, respectively, stating there should be no ban.
The highest support for a ban on all/most sales was among environmental organisations (80%) and hobby gardeners (76%). Over half (58%) of professional gardeners / commercial growers favoured this option, as did 50% of retail plant sales organisations. The whisky industry was most likely to be suggested as an industry to exempt, though others felt professional growers dependent on peat should also be exempt. Some argued for a transition period to give time to become ready for the ban, whilst others preferred a voluntary approach instead.
Economic impact on individuals and businesses
Over four fifths (83%) of organisations indicated they would be impacted by a ban on the sale of peat; one quarter (26%) would be positively impacted, and 57% negatively impacted. Positive impacts were more likely to be anticipated by environmental organisations (57%) and retail plant sales organisations (42%), though half (50%) of the latter group indicated they would be negatively impacted. All whisky organisations and 88% of growing media organisations anticipated negative impacts.
The risk to horticultural businesses was largely attributed to:
- Supply chain issues including more limited stock of both growing media and plants.
- Increased costs associated with sourcing and assessing the quality of -alternative growing media and higher prices for alternatives.
- Reduced productivity due to crop failure or poor-quality plants, i.e. if plants did not grow using alternatives. Some also highlighted that the cost of plants would rise if a ban were introduced due to increased expenditure associated with researching, developing and purchasing peat-free alternatives and the impact of poor growth.
- Reduced sales of plants and growing media, reduced product availability with demand outstripping supply, and reduced profit margins.
- A few also highlighted that alternatives or imported peat could introduce plant diseases to the supply chain.
The potential closure of businesses was mentioned by several, should they be directly affected by a peat sales ban. While most of these respondents did not provide details, a few suggested it could affect peat sellers, compost manufacturers, and whisky distilleries.
Whisky organisations highlighted that a ban on the sale of peat would mean they are unable to make whisky using peated malted barley, which would result in the closure of distilleries with a loss of jobs in remote rural communities. Many respondents argued that the whisky industry should be exempt from a ban, with the lack of an alternative to peat highlighted as a particular challenge for the industry. Other reasons included that peat use for whisky is a small proportion of total peat usage and the potential negative impact on Scotland’s economy.
Those reliant on peat as fuel in rural or island areas also highlighted challenges in transitioning away from peat due to a lack of suitable alternatives or the cost of replacement heating systems. Many argued that a ban on peat sales for fuel, limiting the availability of peat for domestic use, could exacerbate fuel poverty.
However, some felt there would be positive impacts on businesses and consumers from a ban. These included an increased choice of peat-free alternatives or opportunities to use healthy peatlands.
Environmental considerations and impacts
The vast majority of respondents - 91% of individuals and 97% of organisations - stated that they consider environmental impacts when using peat. Many mentioned the role peat has in storing carbon and the negative outcomes of cutting peat. Many others commented on the role peatland plays in maintaining biodiversity in Scotland, and the positive impact restoring peatland would have for wildlife. Preservation of natural heritage and landscapes, and concerns about the degradation of peatlands, were also themes mentioned by many.
Potential positive environmental outcomes of a ban included better protection for peatlands and more peatland restoration, increased carbon storage, improved biodiversity and flood reduction. Conversely, a commonly cited negative impact could be the environmental impact of transporting or using alternatives, including the carbon footprint of transportation, the possibility of introducing pests and diseases from using coir or alternative growing media, and the use of fuels with a worse environmental footprint in rural and island communities.
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