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Big Supermarkets Fail Guildford’s Peat-Free Compost Test

Published on: 23 Jun, 2021
Updated on: 28 Jun, 2021

By Hugh Coakley

Tesco and Sainsbury’s are at the bottom of the peat-free compost supply table, a survey of garden centres and supermarkets around Guildford has found.

Sales of peat compost will be banned by 2024 due to the environmental damage being caused to the rare species in peat bog habitats and the degradation of “our biggest terrestrial carbon store” say the government.

A peat bog in South Uist considered to be in good condition. It is too high and out of the way to be commercially cut for peat.

Tesco and Sainsbury’s were the only two of the fourteen retailers surveyed on May 24 by Extinction Rebellion Guildford who had no peat-free composts available for customers.

A spokesperson from Sainsbury’s said: “We’re looking into why this range was not available in Guildford and apologise for any disappointment this may have caused our customers.” A peat-free compost was available in the Burpham store on Tuesday, June 22.

Tesco told The Dragon they offer both peat and peat-free compost in selected stores based on customer demand and will be making peat-free compost available in more stores going forwards. There was no peat-free compost in their compost range in the Ashenden Road store on June 22.

Peat free compost league table from a survey carried out on May 24 2021.

Julia Shaw from Extinction Rebellion Guildford said she wanted to highlight the importance of peat bogs to the environment because: “They store more carbon in the UK than all Europe’s forests. But we are digging up around two million cubic metres of peat each year with most sold as compost to amateur gardeners.”

The majority of the peat supplied to the UK is from the Republic of Ireland (51%), with a lesser amount from Scotland (15%), Northern Ireland (14%), other EU countries (10%), and England (9%).

Peat extraction in Cumbria in 2010.

Julia said that most gardeners spoken to did not notice the difference between peat or peat-free composts. One allotment holder in Burpham said: “I’ve not noticed any difference and I’m successfully managing to grow using peat-free compost. It does have a different texture.”

Some retailers indicated they were having some difficulty sourcing the peat-free alternative. Ripley Nursery Farm Shop said they “fully endorsed the [XR] campaign to raise awareness” but added they were struggling to meet demand as “supply chains have been problematic due to lock down and post Brexit.

“We were most aggrieved with our score of 57% as we had to plug the demand with more of the peat-based compost this season simply because the peat-free composts were not available.”

Julia said she would be monitoring the Guildford stores. “No-one wants to be at the bottom of the table. It would be brilliant if they were all 100% peat-free”.

Hugh Coakley is a member of Extinction Rebellion

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Responses to Big Supermarkets Fail Guildford’s Peat-Free Compost Test

  1. Hazel McGee Reply

    June 23, 2021 at 9:38 pm

    Great article and good work all round. I have used only peat-free compost this year and the results are excellent. Our tomato growbags are one of each and currently, the peat-free one is streets ahead.

  2. Keith Francis Reply

    June 24, 2021 at 3:12 am

    I know two acknowledged gardening experts who go against what is being encouraged. They say “peat is best”. The other products can be like having glass-paper rubbing against your tender skin which is not what young plants need.

    But manufacturers need to put a “best before date” on their products as it has been found that some compost being sold could be “old stock” perhaps over two years old delayed by the dip in sales due to the pandemic.

    Also, how old can some seeds in packets actually be?

    • Victor Trevor Reply

      June 25, 2021 at 8:28 am

      Surely Keith Francis is completely missing the point? The discussion is not about what is best as a growing medium, it’s about what is best for the benefit of nature. I’d want to put that consideration far above any others. Incidentally, I know plenty of gardeners who would argue that there is nothing to be lost by using peat-free alternatives.

  3. Alison Moulden Reply

    June 25, 2021 at 9:21 am

    Yesterday, tornado winds reaching 260 miles an hour, and hailstones the size of tennis balls, flattened buildings in a village in the Czech Republic. Three are reported to have been killed and dozens injured.

    We have a choice. We can worry about how soft compost is on our tomato plants. Or we can worry about how are children are going to survive the natural and social disasters of climate change. (How soft do you imagine tennis-ball-sized hailstones are on toddlers’ arms and legs?)

    We cannot, however, choose to protect both.

    Using peat compost might make tomatoes more “comfortable”, but it will also condemn your grandchildren to a life of unimaginable suffering.

    I pity those who choose the well-being of tomato plants over the children of future generations.

    It is, of course, our choice.

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