Our nurseries will stop buying peat compost by end of Parliament (May 2024)

Why we currently use compost with peat to grow trees from seed

We supply a mix of cell-grown plugs and bare-root plants, and each method has advantages, disadvantages and degree of environmental impact. We currently use compost with peat in for our cell-grown stock to produce a good enough quality plug for planting.

Producing cell-grown trees that use a proportion of peat means more seeds successfully germinate and grow into healthy trees, so we don't waste seed. High quality tree seed is in limited supply. Using this method also reduces our water and energy use, and allows us to expand both the planting season and the diversity of species we grow.

Previously, the products we trialled were not successful because not enough of the seedlings survived. Cutting out peat without a viable alternative could lead to far fewer homegrown trees being planted and increased water and fertiliser use, which have their own environmental impacts.

Now, based on our most recent trials, we are confident we can fully transition to non-peat growing media and have committed to stop buying compost with peat in by the end of the current Parliament, May 2024. 

Our progress towards peat-free in 2021

Last year, we used more peat-free compost than before and, crucially for us, the health of this year’s seedlings is looking better than previous peat-free trials. We also reduced how much peat is in our compost mix.

    Total volume of compost purchased in 2021

    • 60% peat: 548m³
    • 50% peat: 87m³
    • peat-free: 117m³

    Next steps

    We're increasing the scale of our peat-free trials and continuing to work with suppliers to find more effective products. We also look forward to the results of the government’s consultation on phasing out the use of peat in horticulture.

    We'll go peat-free at the earliest date possible, without creating increased environmental impacts. Sustainability is at our core and we are committed to improving our environmental performance, because it is essential to what we do.

    Wide shot of lots of conifer seedlings germinating in trays

    Related questions

    Why do you grow trees to plant, can’t they grow naturally?

    Sometimes there is enough seed in the ground from surrounding trees to develop the required woodland, called natural regeneration. We encourage natural regeneration wherever possible as it can help to ensure trees are well adapted to their current local environment. However, this can take time and leaves young trees vulnerable to damage from deer, rabbits, and squirrels. Also, there is a limit to how far seeds will fall, and how many will be burried and forgotten by animals.

    Planting saplings can help a new forest to grow more quickly. Where necessary, protection can also be used such as fencing. We can more easily monitor trees as they grow to spot early signs of disease, control pests and ensure our trees are healthy. The trees that naturally grow may also not be suitable for that woodland. This is particularly important in ancient woodland restoration.

    Planting also allows us to adapt forests for a changing climate. Summer temperatures could rise by up to 10°C in parts of England by the end of the century, and many tree species are suffering from pests and diseases. Without action, it's likely the rate of change is faster than our woodlands can adapt to naturally, so we also use seed from other countries matching our likely future climate.

    Saplings grown from seed in our nurseries increases their rate of survival, and so more will become healthy trees. We’re breeding native trees more tolerant to pests or disease, growing different species that will be more resilient and sourcing seeds from trees that are better adapted.

    What are you doing to protect and restore peatlands?

    Open habitats such as peatland are an important feature in our landscapes. We care for the country’s best open habitats and have been working hard to protect and restore peatland across England. Much of the habitat we manage is recognised as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) for their value to nature.

    We care for 8,000 hectares of upland bogs and we're proud to say 77% is in the best state possible, which is classed as ‘favourable condition’. This is compared to a national average of 11% in this top condition.