Our aim is for our nurseries to achieve 100% peat-free production and a peat-free supply chain

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

We would be peat-free today if we could, but currently it’s not possible for us. We have tried 100% peat-free products, but so far these have not been successful because not enough of the seedlings survived. We have been working to reduce our peat use and have already reduced to 65% peat compost mix, but we will keep pushing.

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 need to use compost with peat in for our cell-grown stock to produce a good enough quality plug for planting.

Our choice is not simple. 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.

Cutting out peat now, without a viable alternative, could lead to far fewer homegrown trees planted and increase water and fertiliser use, which have their own environmental impacts.

We are increasing the scale of our peat-free trials and improving the quality of data produced from these. We will do this in a way that can be more easily publicised, with results that can be interrogated, both with informal in-house trials and a formal scientific study with Forest Research.

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

We will continue to work with suppliers to find more effective products. We look forward to the government’s consultation on phasing out the use of peat in horticulture in 2021.

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.