Peat compost ban welcomed by environmentalists in fight against climate change but fears about burning peatland remain

A government ban on the sale of peat compost to gardeners in England from 2024 has been welcomed by environmental groups as another step towards tackling climate change.

But concerns remain about "glaring loopholes" in the government’s plans that would allow the continued burning of carbon-rich peatland.

Environment Secretary George Eustice in a speech in Delamere Forest today unveiled a new Peat Action Plan and England Trees Action Plan, in a bid to tackle the climate and nature crises in England.

Peatlands across the UK store three billion tonnes of carbon, according to the British Ecological Society, which is three times more than the UK’s forests.

They are also home to rare wildlife and can provide clean water and protect against flooding.

But harvesting peat for compost damages a bog’s ability to store carbon and peatland is sometimes burned for grouse hunting or in an effort to manage the land.

The government previously attempted a voluntary phase out of peat sales by 2020 but, having missed this deadline, has now decided to ban sales from 2024, subject to a consultation.

Environmentalists have welcomed the commitments but warned they are too short term and that continued burning of peatland is storing up even worse problems for the future.

Paul de Zylva, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth, praised the plan for "fully recognising the need to protect our peatlands for reasons of boosting nature, storing carbon, helping hold back floodwaters, and all of those things that peatlands do".

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But he said the plans to phase out the burning of peatland were "vague" and "short term".

Mr de Zylva warned the problem in the meantime is that burning continues, which not only reduces the peatland’s ability to capture carbon but releases more of it too, eventually requiring even more funding to restore it.

"It’s all a bit of a nonsense really. It’s akin to letting your best tools in the toolkit go rusty," he said.

Rewilding Britain’s policy and campaigns co-ordinator Guy Shrubsole said: "Because damaged peatlands flip from being superb carbon sinks to carbon emitters, ministers urgently need to tighten glaring loopholes in the moorland burning ban."

The Peat Action Plan also commits £50m towards the restoration of 35,000 hectares of degraded peat bogs in England by 2025, about 1% of the UK’s total.

Matt Williams, climate and land programme lead at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said: "At the moment much of our land is in such poor health that overall it is actually releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

"Plans to restore 35,000 hectares of peat are important commitments, but don’t go further than previous government announcements."

A Defra spokesperson told Sky News: "We have always been clear of the need to phase out rotational burning of protected blanket bog – which is why we are taking action and have brought forward legislation to prevent burning on these vital sites."

Defra said it would "keep under review the environmental and economic case" for extending burning bans after assessing it works in practice.

Sky News has launched the first daily prime time news show dedicated to climate change.

The Daily Climate Show is broadcast at 6.30pm and 9.30pm Monday to Friday on Sky News, the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.

Hosted by Anna Jones, it follows Sky News correspondents as they investigate how global warming is changing our landscape and how we all live our lives.

The show also highlights solutions to the crisis and shows how small changes can make a big difference.

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