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Call to phase out use of peat composts as bogs face extinction

Irish gardeners must start planning for a future without peat. This is the message from celebrity gardeners who are calling for peat-based composts to be phased out completely and replaced with more environmentally friendly choices.

Fears are growing rapidly in the gardening world that digging up Irish bogs is destroying important wildlife habitat and driving climate change. In fact, 42 per cent of the controversial compost used in gardens continues to be peat, with many celebrity gardeners admitting amateur gardeners refuse to phase it out.

Internationally-known gardener Helen Dillon, whose Dublin garden is famous worldwide, believes peat is no longer necessary.

"For me it's like selling one's water or one's air. I'm completely anti using peat. I don't think the country should be digging it up and flogging it, but from a garden point of view, they haven't found something so easy to use that the plants like as much," she said.

Most of the peat used by English gardeners comes from Irish bogs which are important to wildlife habitats. Industry sources estimate the gardening peat market to be worth some €25m.

Irish garden designer and television personality Diarmuid Gavin has managed to cut out chemicals in his gardening as well as compost and believes there are plenty of other substitutes.

"I definitely stick to an opinion that I have always had, and that is never use peat. It's the biggest 'no-no' for me," he said.

He advocates using peat-free products in the home and garden as one of the simplest, yet most effective ways that people can make a positive environmental impact, but unfortunately, in his opinion, the public don't care.

"I am a fully organic gardener. I don't want to kill anything in my garden. I think insects and bugs have the right to co-exist with us and just because we want things to grow well and look pretty, doesn't give us the right to say don't do this. I just won't use peat," said one of the mavericks in the world of garden design.

Mary Reynolds, the only Irish winner of a Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medal for garden design in 2002, has called for more education about an alternative to peat which won't lead to the loss of our valuable bogs.

"Peat lands are disappearing at a tremendous rate and it is unacceptable that we are destroying such ancient wildlife habitats in order to satisfy a so called eco-friendly hobby called 'gardening'.

"Some 5,000 acres of Ireland's peat lands are dug up every year in order to satisfy England's peat gardening needs alone. It is pure laziness that we don't use the obvious alternative like kitchen and garden compost, leaf mould and coir," she said.

"Get over it . . . gardening, like the energy industry, needs to cop on and change, we need to work with nature not against it. Work with the soil you have rather than working against nature. We don't need to keep destroying our wildlife habitats, there are lots of peat-free alternatives and the quality has improved in recent years. We need to change," she advocates.

Gardening techniques change all of the time so the Irish population need to be open to new eco-friendly products, even if it means re-training ourselves.

Simon Church, a qualified horticulturalist with 25 years' experience, notices reluctance in Ireland to ring in the change.

"Most celebrity and TV gardeners are endorsing this approach; those that don't are not winning many fans. Major players Bord Na Mona and Westland Horticulture need to sit down and develop a sustainable future strategy. A gradual phasing out of peat is needed, firstly by reducing the percentage used in compost mixes and backing it up by endorsing green alternatives," he said.

Sunday Independent