Whilst most horticulturalists using coir based substrates today do so for reasons of performance and efficiency, the development of coir as a growing medium came about partly as a result of pressure from government and environmentalists to reduce the destruction of the unique peat bogs and wetlands from which sphagnum peat is extracted.
The destruction of these areas is now a cause for great concern among environmentalists throughout the world. All natural peatlands in the Netherlands have been lost, Switzerland and Germany each have only 500 hectares remaining. The UK has seen a 90% loss of blanket bog and a 98% loss of raised bog. Ireland had only 18% of its original peatland area left. As well as being areas of outstanding natural beauty, these bogs harbour an extraordinary array of animal and plant life, including insects such as rare spiders, dragonflies, caterpillars and rare moths. Many rare plants including lichens (the Cladonia species) and heathers; carnivorous plants such as butterworts (Pinguicula species) and sundews (Drosera species);
Wild and migratory duck and geese (Greenland White-fronted Goose) which rely on the bog lands for nesting and feeding. Rare birds such as the curlew and golden plover are also dependent upon the wetlands, as are birds of prey such as the kestrel and merlin.
In 2001 the UK Government, concerned about the environmental effects of large scale peat extraction, published targets for peat reduction in horticulture. The Growing Media Industry succeeded in meeting the ambitious target of 40% reduction by 2005 and is increasingly investing in production of substrate mixes which will bring us closer to the UK Government’s target for peat reduction of 90% by year 2010.
“The unnecessary use of peat for horticulture is discouraged by The National Trust & The Royal Horticultural Society as well as many environmental bodies such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace and leading multiple retailers in UK such as B & Q, Homebase and Marks and Spencer.
The modern methods of very large scale mechanised production cause the destruction of many of the historical artefacts and information which are stored in the peat bogs. The absence of sunlight and air and the relative absence of micro-organisms in the peat ensure the preservation of deposits of pollen often ranging back for 10,000 years. This pollen gives important information on the vegetation and climate of past years.
In addition to pollen, however, many peat sites (Irish peat bogs in particular) harbour important archaeological artefacts ranging from wooden causeways dating back thousands of years to golden jewellery, drinking cups, ancient weapons and even butter which in Ireland was traditionally stored for preservation in the peat.
Peat bogs take approximately 10,000 years to form, at a rate of approximately 2-mm per year. Whilst efforts can be made to landscape the surface of exhausted peat bogs in a sympathetic way, the delicate environmental balance and animal food chains and breeding grounds can never be renewed, nor can the preserved objects of earlier civilisations which are destroyed in the harvesting machinery.
The use of coir, in place of peat moss, not only ensures better horticultural results but reduces the destruction of the bogs and wetlands, ensures income for rural areas in developing countries from the sale of coir and removes a problematic waste product.
If you are interested in the conservation of peat bogs and wetlands please take a look at The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds website.
BBC NEWS /
Irish Peatland Conservation Council (IPCC) /
English Nature / Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) /
The National Trust / The Ulster Wildlife Trust /
International Mire Conservation Group (IMCG)