Anti-peat warriors are licking their wounds after suffering a devastating setback.

Campaigns to bring a peat phase-out forward from 2020 to 2016, and calls for a tax on peat-based compost, have been brushed aside by the Government.

Campaigners want a ban on peat use

It has even been confirmed that targets to wean gardeners off peat over the next decade will be voluntary.

A similar ‘voluntary’ deadline set by the last Government for the UK to be 90 per cent peat-free by 2010 was ignored.

The findings came to light this month in a White Paper called The Natural Choice, an official document setting out the government’s policies on environmental matters.

“It is disappointing that the Government has failed to seize the opportunity to introduce legislation tackling environmental damage caused by horticultural peat use,” said Olly Watts, peat policy officer at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Olly said the RSPB’s proposed £1 per-bag tax on peat compost had “found support” from growing media suppliers, garden retailers and professional gardeners.

“But instead the Government will continue with a voluntary approach to phasing peat out, which has so far failed. There is no need to dig up carbon-rich peatland habitats to grow flowers and veg,” Olly added.

Garden Organic is pressing for a peat ban in five years’ time. Its Dr Margi Lennartsson said: “It is disappointing but perhaps not surprising why peat targets remain unchanged.

The resistance and opposition from within industry have left DEFRA with one option: to take the middle ground. This overshadowed the strong case put forward by environmental organisations such as ours.”

Margi said Garden Organic would still push for change “sooner rather than later”.

The Royal Horticultural Society said a complete peat phase-out by 2020 would be “challenging” but called on gardeners to achieve targets.

RHS director-general Sue Biggs said: “We know that most gardeners are concerned about the environmental impact of how they garden, so we believe that a voluntary reduction will work.”

Garden centre group the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) said it “cautiously welcomed” the government’s White Paper.