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MPs ask Defra about access to peat alternatives after the HTA raise concerns

Horticultural Trades Association

4 min read Partner content

Last week, MPs raised their concerns in Parliament about the intended ban on the professional use of peat being brought forward by four years.

Defra Ministers were questioned at the despatch box during Parliamentary questions on Thursday on the complex issue of peat use in horticulture, particularly on supporting businesses with access to quality alternatives to meet demand. 

The Horticultural Trades Association and its members, who support nearly 700,000 jobs across the UK, have been engaging with parliamentarians from all parties and hosting visits to explain the challenges around peat-free transition. The sector continues on its journey to move away from peat use, but growers need to be able to use alternative growing media at scale to replace it. 

Peter Dowd, the Labour MP for Bootle, asked if the Minister would be prepared to meet with him and representatives of the Horticultural Trades Association to discuss what further steps the government could take to support the horticultural sector in developing responsibly sourced, high-quality alternatives to peat that can be produced at volume.

Peter Dowd MP speaking during the debate
Peter Dowd MP speaking during questions to Defra ministers

Trudy Harrison MP responded that she has already met with James Barnes (Chairman) at the HTA.

“I will continue to meet with him and other members of the HTA. I've visited a number of nurseries and will continue to do so. I would also offer a meeting with the Honourable Member to discuss how we are supporting the horticultural industry, which is incredibly important in this country for food production. And also, I think, during the week of the Chelsea Flower Show, we can see for ourselves the green-fingered talents of this country, which need to continue and be supported.”

This follows recent visits from Damian Greene MP and Sir Paul Beresford MP to HTA members to see the experiences their local businesses have regarding moving to peat-free. 

Challenges include the time needed to trial new growing mixes, the additional investment required, greater watering volumes, and more regular feeding for the thousands of plant types grown in the UK. Furthermore, a ban on imports containing peat, such as young plant material, will likely see a gardening market contraction in the UK after 2026.

Wendy Chamberlain, MP for North East Fife, also tabled written questions to Defra last week. She asked the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent assessment she has made of the potential impact of the ban on the capacity of UK growers to supply garden centres with the same number of tree and plant varieties, how will the technical exemptions be determined; and what her planned timescale is for announcing what these will be.

Minister Harrison responded that an impact assessment was completed alongside the consultation in 2022. As the plans for the legislation evolve, that assessment will be updated alongside legislative proposals. The Government is currently co-funding research into peat-free growing media with the RHS and industry leaders over the next three years; this research will expand the knowledge base regarding the quality of peat-free growing media and understanding of particular technical difficulties.

Technical exemptions have already been identified for plugs using less than 150ml of substrate and for casing material for mushroom production. Evidence provided for other plant types or production processes requiring a technical exemption will be considered, and Defra will be engaging with the sector to refine any of these. Defra is proposing that the legislation will be framed to allow ministers to amend the dates or modify the exemption where exigent circumstances mean that the removal date is shown to be unachievable. The proposed legislation will be brought forward when parliamentary time allows.

The HTA’S Public Affairs and Policy Manager, David Lydiat, commented:

"We appreciate MPs raising this significant and complicated issue in Parliament with Ministers. Our members are making great strides to go peat-free for the original 2030 deadline but need support and certainty to achieve it across the board. Having enough supply of peat-free alternatives is vital to achieving this."

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