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Going Peat Free!

Now's the time of year when many people get outside and tend to their garden. Do you know why it's so important to check what type of compost you are buying? Katherine Hawkins, Living Landscape Officer at The Wildlife Trusts, tells us why it's important to check if your compost is peat-free!

What is a peatland?

In the UK, we have two main types of peatland habitat: lowland raised bog and blanket bog. Both are entirely fed by rainwater and snowmelt (rather than groundwater), meaning they are found in places where it rains a lot. Peat is very spongy, so walking on it feels like you're walking on jelly. It wobbles and shakes beneath your feet! 

The water and soil is quite acidic - a habitat that not many species can tolerate. However, peatlands are intriguing, captivating and very important. Species that do thrive here include insect-eating plants, and plants with names that Roald Dahl would have been proud of: bladderwort and bog myrtle.

The beautiful large heath butterfly and a range of dragonfly species including the black darter dragonfly thrive in these wet conditions. The habitat provides important nesting and feeding grounds for many wading birds such as dunlin and greenshank. Meanwhile, hen harrier and merlin also feed and roose on the bogs during winter.

Older than your great-great-great-great-great-grandma

Peat takes a very long time to form. Over thousands of years, sphagnum mosses (beautiful multi-coloured mosses that look like little stars) and plant material, decay very slowly in wet conditions and, over time, become compressed.

It can take up to 10,000 years to produce a peat layer that is 10m thick!  

Precious peatlands

A healthy peatland stores carbon and considerable volumes of water that are gradually filtered through the soil and released slowly. However, when peatlands become damaged as a result of drainage or digging, this carbon is released into the atmosphere - contributing to climate change. The picture to the left shows the damage of extracted peat. The Wildlife Trusts are working hard to restore damaged peat bogs across the country by rewetting those that have been drained. 

What does all this have to do with my garden?

One of the most serious threats to our peatlands has been the large scale extraction (digging up) of peat to be used for compost - a material that many people buy and use for growing their own plants with. Many garden centres also use peat-based composts in the plants they sell too. We'd like to keep peat where it belongs and we need your help! 

The Challenge!

As you begin to spend more time in the garden or allotment, there are some simple steps you can take to help protect peatlands:

  • Only buy peat-free compost for your garden. You can check the packaging for this information
  • Ensure that any plants you buy are not grown in peat soil (by checking their label)
  • Make your own compost. Not only will you be protecting peatlands but you'll also be helping wildlife in your garden too!
  • If you visit a garden centre that doesn't offer peat-free compost then ask for it. Demand from customers is a very powerful way to encourage retailers to change what they sell

How to make your own compost

By recycling old objects such as bricks and branches, you can start your own compost heap at home. Over the year, your food and garden waste will be broken down and transformed into great compost that you can use to grow your own plants - all peat free! 

You can download our 'Make your own compost heap' activity sheet here

Our competition

We asked you to send in a photo of the start of your own compost heap or one that you've already created for a chance of winning a Nancy B's Science Club Garbage to Gardens Compost Kit and Decomposition Journal. We had two sets to give away!

RRP: £20.00
Read more about the kit here!


Congratulations to our two winners, Edward Barnard (aged 2) and Lisa Hollocks (aged 7). We were really impressed with your compost heaps!


Take a look at the rest of the My Wild Challenge series here!