Canadian Sphagnum peat moss Photo: Ragesoss

Consultation launched over peat extraction for horticulture

October 23rd, 2019

The Government has launched a public consultation to examine the use of peat in the horticultural industry that critics say is helping to drive the exploitation of our carbon-rich bogs.  

The consultation is part of a belated review process, long sought after by conservation groups and peatland experts, that was listed as an action in the National Peatland Strategy released in 2015.

A working group made up of the Departments of Heritage and Climate Action and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified key issues that concerned stakeholders and the public are now encouraged to comment on.

Peatlands provide vital ecosystems, acting as the largest global store of land-based carbon, supporting wide-ranging and unique biodiversity, as well as filtering water and protecting against flooding.

Yet, today, the majority of our peatlands are degraded due to historic and ongoing drainage for peat extraction. Drainage has impacted the vast majority of our 1.4 million hectares of bog – almost one-fifth of our entire landmass.

It is estimated that only 10 per cent of our raised bog (310,000ha) and 28 per cent of the blanket bog (774,000ha) resources are suitable for conservation.

Drainage occurs in order to allow extraction for domestic fuel, energy generation, and to make way for agriculture and forestry.

There is also extraction for the horticultural sector, with peat used as a growing medium by gardeners in Ireland and abroad. Two million tonnes of CO2 are released per year due to peat extraction for horticultural uses.

Over 420,000 tonnes of peat exports went to the UK last year, and a further 400,000 tonnes went to mainland Europe and further afield.

There are currently up to 50 companies mining moss peat in Ireland, including the semi-state Bord na Mona that owns seven per cent of Irish bogs.

While the company plans to phase out the harvesting and use of peat for electricity generation, it will continue to harvest peat for horticulture and announced plans last summer to increase its production of peat bedding for livestock.

Peat extraction at Derrycrave site on 28 July 2018 Photo: Friends of the Irish Environment

Mushroom industry

The mushroom industry is also a major user of horticultural peat for casing that holds moisture and allows the industry to grow year-round.

Harte Peat, our largest supplier of mushroom casing, was taken to court by the EPA last year for the extraction of wet peat up to five meters deep at an unlicensed Co Westmeath site.

In an affidavit read during court proceedings, Monaghan Mushroom Group (MMG) founder Ronald Wilson said that the industry “relies entirely” on peat for mushroom casings. Any move to halt the flow of peat, he said, would “devastate the mushroom industry within days”.

According to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the mushroom and soft fruit sectors are actively looking to reduce their peat usage by using wood fibre and coir in their growing medium.

The closing date for consultation submissions is Monday 20 January 2020 and can be sent to peatinhorticulturereview@chg.gov.ie.

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